Alex van Warmerdam's Borgman opens with a disorienting, enthralling sequence in which three men, led by a priest, raid on hidden lairs in a forest where three other men, shabby and unkempt, have hoarded a treasure trove of weaponry. The motives of neither group are clear, but the sheer force that propels the scene promises a wild ride. The entirety of the film can't quite match the energy of this scene, but maintains its fresh air of ambiguity.
The titular Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) is a bearded, mysterious wanderer who settles on an affluent house in which Marina (Hadewych Minis) and Richard (Jeroen Perceval) live with their three children and their young, Danish maid. When Richard firmly rejects Borgman’s request to take a bath in their house and viciously beats him, Marina takes pity on the vagrant and hides him in a backyard bunkhouse. The audience is alerted both to the underlying sense of unease that begins with this game of hide and seek, and to van Warmerdam’s overarching allegory about a Dutch society scarred by class divisions and racial tension.
Borgman charms Marina and enchants the children with his story, yet remains inexplicably hidden from Richard’s sight. Borgman’s comfort at the residence, where his presence has brought others nothing but discomfort, has a comic absurdity to it. He prances around the house, takes long baths as he watches television and sips red wine, and tells the children horror stories about a sea monster. Marina is increasingly attached to this intruder whose mysterious, naked presence above her as she sleeps at nights induces in her nightmares in which she sees herself in violent conflict with her husband. Borgman succumbs to Marina's request to stay with the family, eventually plotting a plan to replace the estate’s gardener. With the plan in place, Borgman brings his accomplices, four other lair people who assist him in his progressively ruthless takeover of the house.