Borderlands, The (2013)
Directed by Elliot Goldner
Strange things are afoot in England's West Country in director Elliot Goldner's unsettling religious horror The Borderlands. When the parish priest of a secluded country village sends reports of otherworldly miraculous activity to the Vatican, miracle-busting duo Gray (Hill) and Deacon (Kennedy) are tasked with heading to the site and utilising their particularly honed skills to disprove the legitimacy of the eerie goings-on. As the technical wizard in charge of the equipment, Gray sets about outfitting the dilapidated church, the rented cottage in which the duo are staying, and even himself and Deacon with video cameras in order to capture every moment of their investigation for later perusal.
Yes, folks, The Borderlands is a found footage movie (of sorts). Don't let that drive you away, though, as it's a damned bloody good one – brimming with a cracking script, excellent performances, and some genuinely frightening scares.
Given the trappings of the found footage style, the visual presentation of The Borderlands will come as no surprise to aficionados of the genre – lots of slow, static shots of empty rooms and hallways are occasionally punctuated with Paranormal Activity style scare punch lines, while the more dynamic footage taken from Gray and Deacon's head-mounted cameras brings more life to the proceedings on a well-judged frequency.
Where things really come alive here are the characters themselves. Gray is the happy-go-lucky nerd, always cracking a joke and geeking out over his equipment. His polar opposite is Deacon – scarred by a history of traumatic experiences while disproving supposed miracles across the globe, he's a hard-drinking, fist-chucking, expletive-flinging man of faith who takes no shit from anyone and refuses to let his time be wasted. Especially if that time could be spent at the bottom of a glass. While this odd couple obviously start off their investigation at potential loggerheads, Goldner's script allows the pair to gradually form an increasing bond of friendship and respect that feels consistently natural, in no small part to the eminently believable, effortless flow of Hill and Kennedy's performances. As the stress of the situation mounts amidst increasingly inexplicable occurrences, the audience falls on side with the dynamic duo, just as they do with each other when a smarmy Vatican representative arrives with the intentions of shutting them down. When Deacon responds appropriately to the shocking behaviour and taunts of some local youths, it's a moment of cheer-raising victory and you're apt to realise just how invested in these guys you are. They're characters that you just can't help but love, and that adds appropriately to the fear once activity in the ancient church starts to ramp up.
Mostly low-key in nature, Goldner's generation of fear throughout The Borderlands is slow and insidious, bolstered by some seriously creepy sound design involving the disembodied sound of crying babies emanating from within the stone walls of the affected place of worship. A few neat touches such as the name on a headstone changing as the head-mounted camera pans over it a second time make use of admirable technical and editing wizardry, but for the most part The Borderlands is focused on creeping dread and the sense of isolated, fish out of water panic when faced with a mysterious threat, far from help and in a hostile environment.
The final act of The Borderlands is where it begins to slightly unravel, with some brief pacing missteps and a final sequence that rushes along far too quickly for its own good. On the other hand, the answers offered in the finale are pleasantly unexpected in nature, delivering a distinctly British style of esoteric horror and embracing the mood of classic rural English genre fare with aplomb.
In the end, The Borderlands easily stands as a highly laudable effort that shouldn't be missed by anyone looking for some slow-burn, skin-crawling supernatural frights backed up by some fantastic characterisation. As unlikely as it may seem come the end credits, the return of Deacon and Gray on further expeditions to disprove earthly miracles would be eminently welcome.
4 out of 5