Review: The Borderlands (2013)

The most surprising thing about The Borderlands, a brilliant British found-footage horror, is that it has such good characters.

Eliot Goldner’s film refutes the rulebook when it comes to the modern day found footage rulebook, in that every handy-cam film must have gobby teenage characters (in fact that stereotype is literally punched in the face here). The Borderlands is not only good because it breaks new ground or because it is scary (which it genuinely is) but it is the strength of the characters and acting that enthralls. There are few horrors where you hope there will be inactivity to listen to more of the character’s unashamedly British banter but this is one of them. On top of that it is an excellent horror film too. A film thats influences span as wide as TV’s The League of Gentleman and Peep Show to the annals of Hammer horror and H.P. Lovecraft.

Opening in rather standard fashion, the film sees ‘Techie’ Gray (regular Ben Wheatley collaborator Robin Hill) meet Deacon (TV’s Gordon Kennedy) an alcoholic priest plagued by the past. The two strike up a friendship but this mystery might not be as clear cut as the rest. The plot is, on the most part, excellent, with an ambitious closing only skewing the impact, as it is a case of too much too quickly. Indeed the admittedly unexpected finale does leave more questions than answers to the investigation and its morbid mysteries (even if these questions are interesting to ponder).

The gothic washes over the narrative like pig’s blood and doesn’t leave from start to finish. This is unrelentingly atmospheric and the use of the rural setting and the central holy building is unsettling. The Borderlands has a Lovecraftian vibe throughout and, while the dialogue adds much needed humorous touches, the horror is firmly effective. A sole church visit in the dead of night, lit only by small torchlight, particularly gets the heart going. The film also slyly references other (far bigger) horror films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism as well as the occult-like back catalogue of Hammer horror features. Even if the same generic problems persist (how did this footage get released), this is a reward for those fatigued with the same old horror flicks.

This is a creepy feature that chills your spine solid but the characters are what stick in the mind. Deacon is likable but sympathetic, with an interesting back story and thankful moral fibre. Gray is blunt in how he speaks occasionally but a real stand-up guy that might remind a few viewers of one of their own mates whilst the avid religious member of the group, Priest Mark (Aidan McArdle) is reliably no nonsense and surprisingly cynical. The dialogue veers from hilarious to actually quite serious and Goldner’s grasp of the proceedings is pretty impressive. Perhaps some will be left irritated by the film’s lack of answers but more will be left intrigued by what Goldner does next and if we might ever see a return to the world of The Borderlands, which would be welcome on this evidence.

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