Tuesday 8 April 2014

The Borderlands (UK 2013: Dir Elliot Goldner)

I love the idea of 'found footage' films. I have an almost unreasonably high expectation with each successive movie that this will be the one that really does it for me. When it starts, it's then usually just a matter of how long it will take me to get bored, start flicking through phone messages, menu planning etc. while keeping one eye on the inane 'action' unfolding in front of me. Well finally I can report some success in my hitherto largely fruitless viewing quest.

First time director Elliot Goldner places the audience for The Borderlands in very similar territory to the distinctly underwhelming Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (2013) - a haunted church in rural England - but whereas PD:C was a massive slog, The Borderlands rarely puts a foot wrong and also shows the full potential of the FF format placed in the right hands.

Two investigators have been summoned from the Vatican by the priest of a parish church - there is a suggestion that the church has been the site of a miracle, based on some rather baffling footage previously caught on camera. The investigators, both men of the cloth, are joined by a secular tecchie to handle the photographic equipment required to capture the potential activity. The team rig up the church and then camp out in a local farmhouse waiting for the action to happen. And it does.

So far so found footage then. But there's a lot that's different about The Borderlands. The acting and script are both spot on for a start. One of the real strengths of the film is the developing 'odd couple' relationship between lead investigator Deacon (played by Gordon Kennedy from TV's Absolutely and pretty much everything else) and Robin Hill as the non believing camera expert Gray. Hill is a regular in the films of Ben Wheatley, and there's a distinct Kill List flavour to the deadpan bickering conversation between the two men, which is occasionally very funny, and which like that film uses the banter to up the tension anticipating what is to come. This subtlety of performance is abandoned in the second part of the movie, but the establishment of characters at this stage makes you care a bit more about what happens to them when the horror takes hold.

The change of pace in The Borderlands is well handled. There's an early dramatic moment which cuts through the blokey chat in a very unsettling way, and signals the move to darker territory. The usual question - about whether the characters would drop their cameras when the going gets tough - is dealt with by the recording equipment being headset mounted, which actually cuts down on the traditional jerky trademark FF look.

The film doesn't try to be overly cinematic either. Goldner keeps his shots tight and controlled, and achieves an almost made for TV documentary feel. He has a real sense of mood - there's a nod to Ghostwatch in a couple of scenes, and the authentic church and catacomb settings, together with the odd and ambiguous ending, recall the mood of the classic 1970s BBC Christmas ghost stories. Strongly recommended.


  1. Well I must confess you've whetted my appetite, but I still have strong reservations, mainly from the trailer. In the trailer we see the two guys approaching a typically unapproachable-looking local to ask for directions, and I found myself groaning at the predictability of this and the look of cliched alarm on the local's face when he hears where they're looking for. If I can get hold of a copy at some point, hopefully at no expense to myself, I may give it a chance.

  2. Watched it last night David. As you say there's a distinct Jamesian ambience and the ending was particularly effective (pity there wasn't a commentary track on the dvd as I'd like to know more about the production). Gray did become a little annoying at times but I liked the banter between him and the impressive Kennedy. With found footage films there's inevitably become a law of diminishing returns but this is about as good as they get.