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The Borderlands

by Lee Broughton Apr 30, 2024

UK correspondent Lee Broughton returns with coverage of an original and engaging British folk horror film. Director Elliot Goldner’s found footage show was released to little fanfare in 2013 but those curious film fans who subsequently picked it up as a speculative cheap buy on DVD or caught it on TV came away pleasantly surprised. It’s a low budget but highly effective genre film that stands out from the crowd.


The Borderlands
Region Free Blu-ray
Second Sight Films
2013 / Colour / 1:78 widescreen / 89 min. / Final Prayer / Street Date April 15, 2024 / Available from Second Sight Films / $19.06
Starring: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle, Luke Neal, Patrick Godfrey.
Cinematography: Eben Bolter
Production Designer: Holly Cameron
Art Director: Tom Knight
Costume Design: Jon Revell
Film Editors: Will Gilbey, Jacob Proctor, Mark Towns
Produced by Jennifer Handorf
Written and Directed by
Elliot Goldner

A trio of investigators working for the Vatican — Gray (Robin Hill), Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) and Mark (Aidan McArdle) — are assigned to a case in a quiet rural village in England. The local church, which was originally built around 1260, was recently entrusted to Father Crellick (Luke Neal) and he has subsequently captured video evidence of supernatural activity taking place within the building. To Crellick’s way of thinking, the disturbing spectacle seen on the video is a bona fide miracle.

Father Crellick’s stressed and distracted state immediately raises suspicions of fakery but Gray’s own camera equipment soon begins recording new phenomena that cannot be readily explained. Furthermore, Mark’s examination of the church’s paper archives uncovers the tortured and cryptic writings of a former priest that suggest that strange things have been happening on the site for many years. As their investigations intensify, the trio are ultimately drawn further and further into a world where the supernatural is very much close at hand.

 

Found footage shows tend to polarise horror film fans. I can understand why but I have to say that the format works well enough for me. I’ve seen more good found footage horror films than I’ve seen bad ones. But maybe I’ve just been lucky with my selections. At any rate, The Borderlands is a superior example of the form.

Found footage film naysayers might be pleased to learn that there’s actually a very good reason for this show’s characters to be filming literally everything that they do: it is revealed that Deacon made a disastrous judgement call on a previous investigation and so the Vatican have ordered that the trio’s every action is recorded at all times. So, in addition to the cameras that Gray rigs up in the church, the trio’s holiday let cottage also has cameras installed throughout and each member of the team is fitted with an ever-present head cam. The film’s narrative is relayed to the viewer by this array of cameras, which means that the action is covered from a good variety of angles.

The early portion of The Borderlands allows for some decent character development. Deacon and Gray are the first to arrive at the cottage and they haven’t met before. Gray is an affable enough but somewhat annoying tech head who never stops talking. He has been drafted in from outside of “the Congregation” and he’s not a particularly religious man. Deacon is the strong silent type who is quick to turn to alcohol and use his fists when he’s angry or under pressure. As such, an element of tension builds between the two as they wait for a delayed Mark to arrive. When he does finally arrive on site, Mark is revealed to be a dour and humourless jobsworth who immediately lambasts the duo for visiting the church without him.

 

To his credit, writer-director Elliot Goldner manages to instil The Borderlands with a growing and effective sense of danger and foreboding well before its supernatural activity is allowed to take centre stage: Gray’s cameras pick up ominous figures looking through the cottage’s windows in the middle of the night; a sheep is sacrificed in the most disturbing of ways in the field behind the cottage; a local man is unresponsive when Gray and Deacon ask him for directions to the church; at the church a large Rottweiler dog is seen attacking a rabbit in the distance; and Gray’s name appears on a headstone in the grounds of the church for a split second.

If we hadn’t guessed already, we soon receive confirmation that Goldner’s film possesses folk horror intent when an exasperated Gray wryly says “Good luck with Edward Woodward” (an obvious reference to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man [1973]) to the unresponsive local. And The Borderlands is indeed a remarkably solid folk horror film. It would be productive to offer a critical discussion of the ways in which the film incorporates some of the key tenets of folk horror here but doing so would involve too many spoilers and this is a film that is best enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible.

 

Suffice to say that when the film’s supernatural activity does take centre stage it is effective and has the power to scare, unsettle and disturb. The trio are officially there to observe and report only and old hands Deacon and Mark remain unimpressed by what they see: the pair think that Father Crellick is faking the phenomena though Gray is convinced that the recordings he has gathered do feature real supernatural activity. Mark is all set to close the investigation down but an unexpected occurrence leads to Deacon changing his mind, breaking with protocol and calling in a revered specialist, Father Calvino (Patrick Godfrey), to perform a “banishment ceremony” in the church. That’s when the trio’s troubles really begin.

The Borderlands is a low budget film but it has been assembled with care. Director Goldner makes good use of the variety of angles that the film’s fixed-in-place security style cameras offer him. Similarly, the film’s head cam footage works well too and it rarely reaches the levels of distracting shakiness that can detract from some found footage shows. Good acting and atmospheric locations are major pluses too. But it’s the originality of the narrative that sells this show so do try and catch it without succumbing to too many spoilers.

 


 

Second Sight Films’ Region Free Blu-ray of The Borderlands is pleasing enough given the general aesthetic of the found footage horror genre (the film was obviously never meant to look like it was shot on top-of-the range, industry standard cameras and that is reflected in this presentation). The presentation’s sound is of a high quality too. The disc’s extra features feel rather slim for a film that is so interesting and original but they do include an audio commentary featuring members of the film’s cast and crew, interviews with the self-same personnel and an archival behind the scenes featurette. Second Sight have also released a limited special edition of the film that comes in a slipcase with a booklet and art cards.

Reviewed by Lee Broughton


The Borderlands
Region Free Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements:
Audio commentary with Robin Hill, Gordon Kennedy, Jennifer Handorf and Dan Martin
Interviews:
Dressed the Part with Robin Hill and Gordon Kennedy
Losing Faith with Jennifer Handorf
Monster Goo with Dan Martin
Archive featurette: Behind the Scenes.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
April 22, 2024
(7117leebord)
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Text © Copyright 2024 Lee Broughton

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Trevor

More commonly known in the US as Final Prayer! I look forward to checking this out!!

Heather

When does it start getting good? I gave up on it.

Dave H

Thanks for reviewing this. I immediately watched it after reading and was not disappointed although, as is often the case in found footage films (cf Blair Witch), the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. But a great movie nonetheless.

Wayne Schmidt

Thanks for the review. Just watched it and found it unsettling, with a good ratcheting up in tension and unease. For people who don’t like these kinds of films the viewing environment is crucial for them to work. A well lit room with distractions and it will not work.

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