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Boris & Johan (2019)

Johan (Dan Berkey) employs Boris (Brett Benowitz), a young student, to follow an unknown subject around the limits of New York City. Johan asks him to record him, learn the man’s daily routine, and commit illegal acts, all in the name of something that Boris is completely unaware of. No one other than Johan knows the purpose of stalking this unnamed man, but the stalking continues regardless. This is the story of Boris & Johan as they follow a story as far as they can–until there is nothing left to follow.

Viewers are left in the dark from the opening moments of Boris & Johan, and for some viewers that will be frustrating. That idea of unknowing can cause viewers to fade from the narrative, confused as to why they are being left in the dark. In addition to this, viewers may feel that the narrative holds no weight as a result of the missing pieces–and, understandably, there will be a number of individuals that will struggle to appreciate what is being done. On the flip side, viewers that are willing to play along, take their time, and attempt to piece together the constantly shifting puzzle will find solace in the game. Is the juice worth the squeeze? In other words, is the reason behind stalking this man worth waiting more than an hour–well that’s up to each individual viewer (but I subscribe to the idea that it’s worth every minute).

Boris & Johan feels very natural, unscripted, far from what viewers might expect from a typical cinematic experience–but that’s good. It’s fresh and unwavering on its journey toward being original. Berkey and Benowitz have wonderful chemistry, allowing them to feel honest and real in their portrayal of unique business partners (at least we will call them business partners). There is a discomfort present in nearly every one of Boris’ lines, and he often finds himself in situations in which he should be uncomfortable. Boris is dynamic, and he slowly, but clearly, changes throughout the course of the film; Benowitz is tasked with seeing this development happen organically on screen, oftentimes from behind a lens. Johan is a different beast, a more experienced, more fanatical type of person (right from the start), and Berkey sees that those characteristics shine through in his performance throughout Boris & Johan.

The set is similar to the performances–simple, realistic, and seemingly in no way fabricated for the film. Walls look worn, bathtubs a tad dirty, and just about everything else is a reflection of the real world. Boris & Johan is a slow moving film that requires a certain level of legitimacy in order for it to work–if things are too exaggerated then the film can lose meaning. Boris & Johan remains rather even-keeled, however, throughout its course, and it feels impeccably real and honest–and with that, it remains accessible and understandable for all willing to watch.

Again, the slow-moving, antagonistic nature of Boris & Johan can be off-putting–and there may be viewers that ultimately give up before the film’s conclusion. Patience is essential in order to appreciate what Writer-Director Taylor Jenisch creates here. I’ll be honest, patience is not my strong point, and it’s something that I struggle with on a regular basis–but not a moment passed in which I questioned whether or not I wanted to finish this film, and that’s a testament to how inviting Boris & Johan is. Boris & Johan is visceral, and this creates suspense, strengthening the film as a whole, and delivering something horrifying and honest.

Written & Directed by Taylor Jenisch.

Starring Brett Benowitz, Dan Berkey, etc.




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