I realized as I looked back through my archive the other day that I seem to have reviewed a lot of 'found footage' films - some of which were very good indeed - but what was properly missing was one from Old Blighty. So imagine my surprise when I bought The Borderlands on a whim and discovered not only was it a found-footage (or FF, which I'm sure will catch on as an acronym) it also wasn't crap! Hoorah!
|Even though this might give you that impression. Worst. Box Art. Ever.|
The plot concerns three men - a team sent by the Vatican to investigate a potentially miraculous event. I have no idea how accurate this is to how they actually go about investigating miracles, but it's plausible enough for the movie to work. In an interesting twist, it is the priests who are the most cynical: they have uncovered too many forgeries and people misguided by 'faith'. It is the third, an annoying techie, who really buys into the fact that the church and it's resident priest that they are investigating are not quite what they appear to be. All of the cast are pretty much unknowns but expertly cast and acted, which goes a long way to making them feel like real people.
The first thing that this film has going for it is that it provides an excellent justification for the same question that dogs every FF - why do they keep filming when bad stuff is happening? The simple answer provided here is that everything has to be documented for the Vatican. Hence, everyone wears headcams at all times, and several remote cameras are put up in both the church and the house they all stay in.
The second is that it spends a lot of time establishing its characters and exploring their world-views. Most FF characters are essentially meat on the hoof, impossibly attractive audience foils to whom Bad Stuff Happens. All four of the leads here, however, feel like real people, with real histories, sometimes with each other, and personal demons that can never really be overcome. One is presented unsympathetically as a functional alcoholic, for example.
The set design is wonderfully claustrophobic. The mounted cameras cover the whole church, it seems, but still don't seem to cover enough of it. The dark corners in which something could be lurking, the terrible noises coming from...somewhere and the glitches in the recording all add up to moments of unbearable tension. Watch this late at night with the lights off, and you'll soon be creeping yourself out.
|This is the church DURING THE DAY. You'd better believe it's worse at night.|
It is a bit of a slow burner, however, so if you put it on during the day or half-watch it I imagine it's effect will be diminished. There are long conversations on the meaning of faith, along with things like the church records and previous incidents. I can see this being a film that bores some people. I, however, loved it and would recommend it to anyone who is a horror fan.
There's another reason I would recommend this - the ending. Without spoiling anything, I had to rack my brains to think if I'd seen anything like it before, but if so, I'm 100% sure this is the first time I've seen someone do it 100% right. Oh maaaaan. Sequel please!