Writer-director duo Carlos Rafael Betancourt and Oscar Ernesto Ortega stage a two-hander about an abusive relationship, in which middle-aged David (Jonathan Del Arco) lures Justin (Héctor Medina) to his home, forcing him to live with him for weeks. A strong premise, excellent performances and handsome cinematography are sadly let down by narrative contrivance and sophomoric psychology.
Content warning: this review discuss domestic abuse, rape threat and kidnapping.
David, a handsome, middle-aged man – clearly of means in a spacious waterfront home – prepares a meal for two. Checking his phone, it’s clear he’s got a hot younger date over. Soon enough, Justin arrives and the pair seem to have instant chemistry – even if David has to navigate Justin’s veganism.
But there are little warning flags. David having Justin pose topless for a portrait may or may not have been pre-arranged but there is just an air of predatory ickiness over the whole thing. Then later, David goes outside to dispatch a raccoon caught in trap. It’s all too weird and Justin has had enough: it’s time to go. But David doesn’t want him to and insists that Justin wants to stay really. He doesn’t rape Justin, but the threat is explicit. Instead, he forces Justin to stay the night in the studio, acting completely normal in the morning, bringing him vegan pancakes and almond milk.
Justin’s baffled terror contrasted with David’s calm, monstrous banality is where Borrowed is at its strongest, and it’s in these tense moments that the film builds a sense of dread that could tip into outright horror. Elsewhere, Justin and David share memories of coming out to parents, or in quieter moments of confession David’s estranged son, and the film finds something approaching emotional truth. It’s in these moments that the film looks its best, with David and Justin often lit from behind or bathed in white morning light.
What lets Borrowed down, sadly, is largely the contrivance that keeps Justin inside David’s home and the way that the screenplay handles the deeply abusive relationship he has trapped him in. Justin has numerous opportunities throughout the film to escape but doesn’t and as the plot progresses, seems to be growing in affection for David. The film gives us no indication of whether this is genuine or a ruse to gain his trust before making his getaway. If it is the latter, then why not take one of the many chances readily offered to him? If the former, then either I have wildly underestimated the power of Stockholm syndrome or we’re witnessing a grossly distorted vision of abuse. Later, Justin does try to make a break for it but it still doesn’t match up with his behaviour from earlier scenes.
There is a much more interesting, coherent film trying to find its voice here. There are moments to recommend here and its central performances are really terrific, but as a whole, Borrowed has little meaningful to say about abuse, relationships or redemption.