Found footage doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and there’re several good reasons for that. While at its worst it can be really cheap and gimmicky, done well it can be enormously immersiv, and can lead to very effective set-ups for scares. The Borderlands is a new British entry to the sub-genre (or should that be format?) and it’s definitely one of the better ones. There’s something very down to Earth about this film, it’s grounded in good performances of well-written characters, which makes the disturbing areas this story goes all the more shocking.
A small church somewhere deep in the West Country has made claim of a miracle, strange events caught on camera during a Christening. As such, a Vatican team consisting of Deacon (Gordon Kennedy), Gray (Robin Hill), and Mark (Aidan McArdle) are sent to see if it’s genuine. At first they are pretty sceptical, but they soon find that there is something going on with the church. Whatever it is though, it most likely isn’t a sign from the Lord; it is something old, older than Christianity, and very malevolent.
It should be firstly mentioned that this is a well-made found footage movie. It puts a lot of thought into, and finds decent answers to, the “drop the camera and run” problem a lot of these sort of films have. It uses the cameras (both the characters’ headcams and the surveillance cameras they set up) limitations well, using the limited field of vision and lack of low light detail to build up mood. Plus there’s no shakey-cam issues, it doesn’t try to cheaply hide effects behind dodgy filming. On the contrary, some of the best scares are reveals made as the camera pans over. Overall, while issues of “who’s editing this all together” do come to mind, it’s avoids most of the common pitfalls, and is really effective as found footage movies go.
Characterisation is pretty good in this film too. The main leads have good chemistry, and it’s always good to see a modern horror film based around professional adults, not the usual teens/twenty-somethings that overpopulate the genre. What’s interesting is the way that the characters view events is almost the opposite to what one might expect, but in a logical way. Gray is the least religious on the team, being their tech guy, Deacon is a professional investigator who’s been with the church for years, and Mark is a fully ordained priest. Yet it’s the latter two who are the most sceptical about what’s going at first, almost ready to write-off the whole thing as a scam before going inside. This, and other good character traits, definitely show the quality of the writing at work, and really builds the connection to the cast. Gray and Deacon are perhaps some of the most likeable and human feeling horror leads of recent years and even the side characters get a bit of decent depth. One excellent touch is the moment one realises why the local priest (Luke Neal) is so desperate for the events to be a true miracle; because he knows there’s a truly horrifying alternative.
Where this film really excels though is in the horror credentials. It uses a lot of older ideas exceedingly well, with the modern found footage styling mixed in well with elements straight out of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft at points. The main weapon this film uses to scare you is in sound design, like the strange scratching from the walls, or a baby’s crying coming seemingly out of nowhere. In fact, it manages to make scenes shot in picturesque English countryside terrifying, especially in one very smart subliminal scare that you may need to rewind and freeze frame to make certain you’ve seen what you thought you did. It all builds to the climax extremely well. Unfortunately, while it is a shocking and claustrophobic climax, with a final sting that reveals the sheer scale of what they’ve been facing, it’s a bit unsatisfying, leaving more than a few loose ends. There seems to be hints of something very wrong with the local villagers, but this gets left somewhat unresolved. Still, it’s one of the most unnerving final scenes in quite a while.
While the final act doesn’t quite live up to the work the rest of the film did, this is superior horror fare. It has characters one can get invested in, big ideas in regards to belief explored well, and it delivers a good mix of current age and old school scares. The Borderlands won’t reinvent the genre or British horror, but it is an effective fright flick that’s well worth checking out.