As America suffers through an opioid epidemic, it’s easy to see its influence on pop culture. From Euphoria to Babylon, drug abuse remains on filmmaker’s minds. However, there’s a thin line between using the film to show the lengths addiction will make a person go to get high and using that to exploit it’s talent. A new drama, Borderline, falls on the wrong side of that line. It’s a shame because while it’s an imperfect film in terms of its dramatic writing, the overuse of sex and nudity overshadows the other things the film does well.
Charli (Kate Lý Johnston) suffers from mental illness and addiction to various drugs. She uses with her best friend Zee (Kylee Michael) and often gets more drugs from her boyfriend Kyle (Irmon Hill). Charli also works as a nurse and performs sexual favors for co-worker Trevor (Quentin Boyer) to score. However, her jealousy and consistent drug habit push Charli to lose grip on what is real and imagined.
Borderline‘s basic setup and storyline make for an all-too-familiar story of drug addiction. The tragedy hits home, and Johnston brings a genuinely excellent performance at times. The opening scenes of Borderline hit hard and immediately establish the stakes. Charli is not just using but is willing to lash out at anyone nearby to get her fix. At times, it’s hard not to see similarities to Zendaya in Euphoria, in part because of her costuming and styling. However, Johnston establishes enough differences in the performance to make Charli her own character.
Unfortunately, the way Borderline uses sex and nudity undercuts the story. Without explanation, protagonists, allies, and enemies begin undressing or showing skin for no reason. As someone who feels that the outcry about sex in films has been overblown over the last decade, it pushed too far for my taste. There was seemingly no purpose for the majority of these moments beyond being voyeuristic. There are many ways that this could have fit into the context of a narrative about drugs and mental illness. However, Borderline tosses in random sequences where the naked bodies of its stars have no purpose.
Director Rich Malley does little to make Borderline feel cinematic either. Many of the “offices’ in the workplace barely resemble what a hospital or outpatient treatment facility would look like. The costuming of his characters further reinforces the exploitative nature, with the camera often focusing on the short shorts or undergarments on display while critical dialogue occurs. Unfortunately, Borderline does little to keep the focus on its serious story. The actors try to elevate the material, but it’s difficult when drug dealers threaten to “run a train” on a person with a substance abuse disorder. Others provide kink-based sex work for their narcotics. The presence of both instances is excessive. Whether it is a failure of direction, writing, or production, Borderline does nothing to engender goodwill.