When it comes to having the bejeezus scared out of you, you don’t normally find that our home-grown British productions really have that ‘run around like your hair is on fire’ kind of momentum. Often the calling card for new directors, the horror genre has alot going for it. It’s not overly reliant upon a great idea (most stories are not unique) or a sophisticated script. Scaring your audience, regardless of plot, is easy as a general rule (not to mention cheap as chips). You just have to provide something either unexpected, loud or horrid to look at without any kind of warning, with if you’re lucky, a suitably tense score.
When horror starts to get tricky is when you throw in the rather dicey attempts at ‘achievement of mood’. The most successful and notorious films in recent years that featured horror at their core managed to hook the viewer into feeling the same credibly-acted terror that the cast are seen suffering from. Foreboding, malevolence, confusion, helplessness and evil. Get your own head round those and into your audience and a directors job is really, truly done, without the trivialites of a script or a story, although both of these will obviously make an average horror movie that much better.
And whilst not imbibed with quite all of these qualities, The Borderlands is a very pleasant home-grown surprise. As with most independent film produced over here, the miniscule budget has at least something to answer for, but maybe not as much as in other examples of this type of thing. Here, there is little excuse made on screen for any perceived lack of funding and what could have been achieved with an extra buck or two, in this case, may have done the project more good than harm.
When pressed, director Elliot Goldner suggested that this project felt like ‘a very long short film’ and I think I know exactly what he means. Having seen plenty of shorts in my time, the opening half an hour or so of The Borderlands lends itself very well to a concise and sharp, self-contained one act play. Thankfully, he carried on shooting, at a point where he may have just agreed with the rest of us and said “no, actually, I’m happy with it, that’s a wrap,” choosing instead to continue a story that already boasted some witty and nifty scripting, not to mention some impressive two-handed back and forths with our two main characters, Deacon (played by Gordon Kennedy, altogether now – STONEYBRIDGE!) and one of Ben Wheatley’s sidekicks from Down Terrace and editor of Kill List and Sightseers, the very impressive and seemingly mutli-talented Robin Hill.
Concerning themselves with the reports of potential miracles in a remote church in the West Country, two Vatican approved paranormal investigators are sent to look into the validity of the claims. What they find at the church is at first, as you would expect, completely pedestrian and Goldner makes no apology for not rushing the story aloing, instead choosing to acquaint us with these two main roles. Deacon is cynical and world-weary with the eyes and stories of past adventures he would rather not share. Gray (Hill), unlike Deacon, is not remotely religious and is only along for the ride because its pays well and he has all of the kit required to document the investigation, which includes all of the relevant camera equipment on which alot of the plot hangs. The first time we meet them is also the first time they meet each other.
And yes, the film does liberally make use of a first person perspective (incase you missed it in the trailer), integrating this method of film-making by attaching cameras to the heads of our leads. At first, this seems a little cliched. We have all been here before and the arguments for and against the ‘found-footage’ style are well documented already, so we should avoid going into it again here. Suffice to say that they prove a very valuable tool for the narrative, although on reflection, you may wonder if they were necessary as a personal effect for the characters, save for the final act.
If you have seen any film of this type, you will have doubtlessly seen the plot coming from a country mile away. As mentioned earlier, it’s not particularly original and as the secrets of this mystery unravel, you may roll your eyes, even with the best will in the world. Nonetheless, Goldner’s skill here is not the telling of an original tale, but breathing life into an already familiar trope, with directorial imagination, and the casting of two or three excellent actors, that play excellently off one another.By the completion of the story and the start of the end credits, you can rightfully expect to feel like you have been through a gamut of emotions and something of a mental battering. The sometimes paranoid, yet always oppressive, feel of the film means that you can never get comfortable, even in those moments where it threatens to become a little-light-hearted with the aid of an occasionally amusing script.
Altogether, a great, simple, effective piece of work from a team that prove that despite our stiff upper lip, we Brits can scare you properly too.