After claims that a miracle, or at least, some form of paranormal event, occurred in a remote church in the UK, a team of investigators is invited by the parish priest to look into the case. The team is no ordinary ‘ghost chaser’ squad; they have in fact strong links with the Vatican, and are used to unearthing hoaxes and the attention seeking nature of these claims.
Gray (Robin Hill), the tech expert, arrives first in the small village, and begins setting up cameras around the house they’ll be staying in for the duration of the investigation. Soon after, Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) shows up, and despite the nature of the investigation is not quite happy with having to wear a head cam ‘at all times’. The final member of the party – Mark (Aidan McArdle), a Vatican representative – eventually arrives, and the trio make their way to the dilapidated church, where they meet the erratically behaved local priest, Father Crellick (Luke Neal), who gives them the keys to the building and allows them to set up both cameras and audio equipment.
Over the course of a few short days and nights, things begin to take a turn for the creepy; crucifixes have a habit of falling off the walls, and the audio equipment picks up the sounds of a baby crying. All of this can be explained, but events start to heat up outside of the church, too. The locals become increasingly hostile, and someone sets fire to a sheep outside the investigators house. With the history of the church and area slowly beginning to reveal itself, the investigators realise that there might be more to the claims than they initially believed – but will they be able to unravel the mystery before they lose their minds, and possibly their lives?
In case you didn’t figure out from reading that, The Borderlands is indeed a ‘found footage’ film, which might possibly make or break this for you straight away. Given the nature of the sub genre (people filming events as they unfold; the boring ‘set up’ parts and all, through to the often illogical conclusions), The Borderlands manages to side step many of the problems inherent with the stylistic choice, and deliver on a film that works quite well within its boundaries. Firstly, the film actually looks quite cinematic; even though there are a few moments of ‘shaky cam’ and file glitches, it’s never overplayed or forced upon you, and after the first few awkward minutes I nearly forgot it was a found footage film. This is due to the fact that all three leads have cameras strapped to their heads (not nearly as clunky as it sounds), and mixed with the multiple cameras our techie Gray has set up at the various locations, we are never short of a variety of angles and perspectives, which really keeps the film energetic but without sacrificing atmosphere and clarity.
Secondly, the cast is excellent. There’s an unusual amount of natural humour that develops between Deacon and Gray (the former a holy man haunted by past events and tragedy, the latter a chain-smoking loudmouth always ready with a smart-arsed quip), but luckily, not only does it work, but it goes a long way to enhance the mood. It allows us to get to know these very different characters quickly, so when the scares and horror starts piling up, their very human reactions to the events make it so much more believable. The atmosphere is thick, especially in the last third of the film, but this is achieved through a slow-and-steady approach; despite a few well-timed jumps early on, it’s much happier developing the impending sense of dread through clever sound design and bleak settings, and is the better film for it. They pay off is worth it, with a climax that (although borrowing from many other horrors within the sub genre) really gets under your skin.
If all of this has worked well so far, then it’s with the ending that the audience may eventually slip. It’s always hard coming to a satisfactory conclusion for a film working within the confines of found footage, but I felt that The Borderlands put something fresh and quite unique in here to finish things off; it might not be to everyone’s taste, but it worked well for me, and seemed to fit in with some of the blackly humourous touches and tied in with a throwaway comment made by Deacon early on. Directed by first timer Elliot Goldner, he does a fine job of keeping things believable, tense and scary, and the game cast only helps.
Don’t let the possibility of you not liking the ending put you off, the journey there is well worth it. Director Goldner has done a rare thing with delivering a found footage horror that manages to not only have a complete sense of character and story, but also creeps the hell out of you while doing it. recommended.