THE BORDERLANDS (October 12th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
Look, I know it's not the 'cool' thing to say as a genre fan but I bloody love me a little bit of found footage horror. There are undoubtedly some really bad examples of this lo-fi style of film-making as it has made it a little bit easier to make a feature film and therefore the quality is sometimes a bit hit and miss. All you need is a camcorder and a bunch of mates right? Well, not exactly. The format has it's own challenges but over the last 20 years or so we've seen some really good films being made that otherwise wouldn't have. Blair Witch, Rec, Paranormal Activity, Creep, Grave Encounters (what? I liked it!), Unfriended, The Tunnel, Lake Mungo...I could go on. Another one that has been recommended to me several times over the past few years is Elliot Goldner's 'The Borderlands'. Mark Kermode is a fan so that's high praise indeed.
Released as Final Prayer in the US, the set up for The Borderlands is relatively straightforward. It's a bit like an inverse of The Last Exorcism. But instead of a fraudulent member of the clergy trying to exaggerate (and fake) phenomena during a possession case, what we have here is a small team known as 'The Congregation', whose job it is to go around to sites of suspected miracles to validate how true they are. Suffice to say they're a sceptical bunch and their aim is effectively to debunk these miracles, mainly because the vast majority of them are hoaxes. We have Deacon - a cynical religious brother, Gray – an annoying techie guy who doesn't take anything seriously and Father Mark, the uptight leader of the group.
The 'miracle' they are sent to investigate by the Vatican is the movement of an altar by an unseen force at an old, recently reopened church located in rural Devon. The trio set up camp in a rented cottage but early on there are signs that things aren't quite right. The locals are hostile, a sheep is burnt outside their cottage and the local priest Father Crellick is just acting rather strangely. Once they are inside the church they set up cameras and it's not too long before we are witness to visual and audio phenomenon. Is it real or is someone faking the whole thing? Mark thinks that the local priest is behind it all but Deacon and Gray aren't so sure...
There's a lot to like about The Borderlands. Mark Kermode claimed that he was close to leaving the cinema during his viewing of the film as it got to him so much and I can sort of see why. Although I didn't feel the fear factor to the same extent as the distinguished film critic, the film has a quietly unsettling atmosphere to it that just builds the further the story goes on. The isolated countryside setting, the empty ancient church, the wandering around at night with torches – there is a real creep factor to The Borderlands that's difficult to shake and a lot of that is down to the fact that Director Elliot lets the audience imagine a lot of the horror and merely offers aural and visual prompts to get your mind racing. It's the perfect movie to watch by yourself with all the lights out as a lot of the scary stuff is subtle and suggested. Grainy footage, ambiguous noises and suggestive glimpses are all used to great effect here. And as the old adage goes, the mind is capable of creating something far scarier than anything you can see on screen. The boogeyman is subjective after all.
The acting is also impressive too – something that's not always the case with found footage flicks. But these people all seem real and realistically flawed. The script feels natural too, with Gray and Deacon having some interesting exchanges along the way.
It also isn't afraid to leave some unanswered questions and thankfully doesn't feel the need to explain all of the religious mythology too much either. Most people who have seen this film talk about the ending though. The last ten to fifteen minutes are particularly intense and really quite nightmarish. Top notch British found footage horrors don't come around too often, but I can now add another one to the list.