The Borderlands (2013) Review

The directorial début of one Elliot Goldner, The Borderlands is a haunting journey into the dark side of religion that manages to effectively utilise the found footage format in a way not seen since Paris Hilton discovered infrared cameras.

Centring around three paranormal investigators dispatched by the Vatican to debunk a supposed miracle, The Borderlands gladly embraces the opportunities its format provides. Goldner quickly and convincingly establishes the rules for his restrictive narrative – the Vatican demand every aspect of the investigation be punctiliously recorded as proof of authenticity. The characters also utilize different varieties of recording devices (CCTV, Go-Pro style cameras, etc.) avoiding the common sense pitfalls seen in similar movies.

I’m not usually a fan of ‘Found Footage’ movies. They usually feature plots told at an eyewitness level in a pseudo-documentary style. And, therefore, are by necessity crammed with increasingly convoluted reasons for the protagonists to refuse to relinquish their cameras like they’re Edward DSLR-Hands. They’re usually really boring too, as they’re so cheap to make – relying on ‘spooky noises’ or ‘ghostly figures’. Let me be clear, a poorly focused hand-held camera does nothing to enhance plausibility. It just pisses people off. 

Refreshingly, the use of cameras as a story telling device in The Borderlands serves the enhance the horror set pieces. Graphical glitches and the unnatural interference corrupting the recording grant the audience glimpses into the evil influence lurking deep under the surface of the commonplace church. Initially Goldner keeps the truth ambiguous: are these just bizarre glitches, or do they mask something altogether far more insidious?

Goldner’s inspired approach is made all the more convincing by his attempt to marry the directing style and story together in an organic way. Whereas films such as Paranormal Activity operate on a reactionary plot with the characters continually responding to the worsening situation; The Borderlands initially restricts glimpses of the dark presence solely to the audience. Enabling Goldner to devote his time to establishing the relationships between the three men.

The calm, isolated scenes in the cottage are where The Borderlands shines. Gordon Kennedy and Robin Hill have magnificent on-screen chemistry as turmoiled priest Deacon and spiritually confused tech expert Gray. Cantankerous minister Mark Amidon (Aidan McArdle) plays the role of the logical counterpoint to both men, keeping the plot from becoming lost in its exploration of faith. The cottage serves as the film’s forum to explore its themes of nihilism, doubt, the crisis of faith, and agnosticism. Shades of Robin Hardy‘s 1973 classic The Wicker Man run throughout The Borderlands’ rural England setting.

Luscious countryside and amiable, if rather withdrawn, locals contrast uncomfortably with ominous churches and the occult. As the mystery progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that either the disturbed local priest who reported the miracle or, ugh, the menacing gang youths are responsible. Outraged, I was ready to crush to ending like the scales at Fat Fighter’s weekly weigh-in. And then in the last fifteen minutes Goldner throws an unexpected curve ball.

For the majority of its runtime The Borderland is all atmosphere without the payoff. The only monsters present are those that live inside and define us. As chilling as the atmosphere is, man can not exist on it alone. Goldner knows this and takes a firm grasp of the reigns for the final stretch. I would take no pleasure in spoiling the ending as, in my opinion, it is worth the price of admission alone. What I will say is that it becomes increasingly claustrophobic until all chance of a final reprieve is snuffed out.

From the sprawling countryside shots at the beginning of the movie, the environments become increasingly secluded, until the uncomfortable culmination in the bowels of the church. An elaborate trap has been prepared from the very beginning but only now that there’s no chance of escape do we recognise the danger. The final sequence of the movie, gloriously Lovecraftian in its execution, really stuck with me; all the more so after realising its depressing inevitability. It continued to occupy my mind for many a long sweaty sleepless night. Rather impressive actually; I haven’t been this disturbed by an amateur recording since uncovering a video of my uncle recreating the Buffalo Bill dance scene. Somehow wearing even fewer clothes.

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