British found footage horror The Borderlands sees a group of paranormal investigators document the supernatural activity at a Devonshire church with alarming results…
We’ve seen the natural progression of the found footage genre as the principles laid out by the brilliant genre poster child The Blair Witch Project have been adapted and updated for the 21st century. The main advantage to filmmakers today is the proliferation of advanced high-definition cameras. Instead of lugging around a heavy 16mm film camera with its weighty glass lenses and film canisters like the doomed filmmakers who succumb to the Blair Witch, now you make do with a camera that fits in your pocket and can record 1,000 hours of HD video.
The Borderlands, writer-director Elliot Goldner’s debut feature film, makes use of modern camera technology, recording the majority of its action through head cams. This gives the film an effective point of view aesthetic as three principle characters investigate strange goings-on at a church in England’s South West. It also provides a suitably frenetic, disorientating viewpoint that is particularly unnerving as the film’s events take a stranger turn in the second half.
The story begins as tech specialist Gray (Robin Hill) begins preparing to film a project by Vatican investigators Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) and Mark (Aidan McArdle) as they try to verify the claims of Father Crellick (Luke Neal) that supernatural occurrences are taking place at his church. He sets up locked off surveillance cameras at the Devonshire cottage they are all staying at, adding a similar number at the church and giving his fellow investigators head cameras to wear. The trio are initially sceptical as they try to debunk Father Crellick’s story but the priest’s actions become increasingly unpredictable while some unexplainable sounds and events cause the group to question both their initial hypothesis and their sanity.
In many ways, The Borderlands, aside from its creative use of head cams, brings nothing new to the genre. But what it does do well is create an unsettling backdrop to events – namely the rundown West Country church and the isolated countryside setting. In addition, the unsavoury welcome the investigators get from the local town such as their heated dismissal from the pub and the slow realisation that yobs have set fire to a sheep outside their rented cottage teasingly prepares us for the film’s deepening sense of dread.
>Yet, despite a few successful scares in its first half, the film could have done with more substance while the humour falls flat. Most of the so-called laughs come from the self-confessed tech geek Gray but his character grates on the patience and he becomes one of those annoying protagonists you don’t mind seeing bumped off. And, in a found footage film you know it’s likely to happen eventually. But the film rewards viewers willing to stick it out to the end with a claustrophobic, fast-paced finale that does what most films of the genre struggle to achieve. Yes, this found footage horror has a good ending. It’s great, in fact.
The Borderlands might not refresh the genre conceptually but it utilises its head cam point of view to good effect. As one of the new generation of found footage films it neatly mixes the traditions of paranormal horror with the stylistic opportunities afforded by modern digital miniature camera technology.