Review: The Borderlands (2013)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #674

Also known as Final Prayer, The Devil Lies Beneath
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 24, 2013 (FrightFest)
Sub-Genre: Found Footage
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Elliot Goldner
Producers: Jennifer Handorf, Jezz Vernon
Screenplay: Elliot Goldner
Special Effects: Dan Martin
Cinematography: Eben Bolter
Editing: Will Gilbey, Jacob Proctor, Mark Towns
Studio: Metrodome Distribution
Distributor: Metrodome Distribution, Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Stars: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle, Patrick Godfrey , Luke Neal, Kevin Johnson, Peter Charlton, Marcus Cunningham, Sarah Annis, Lee Arnold, Drew Casson

Suggested Audio Hymn ♫

[1] Aurora Surgit “Dies Irae”

[2] Belinda Kordic “The Trooper Cut Down In His Prime”

They only went and found more footage didn’t they? Whoever is responsible for misplacing all these reels needs throttling if you ask me. I mean, how long can this go on? Over the past decade or so, there have been literally dozens of the bastards and it has long since ceased being amusing to me. I’ve rattled on about why this particular sub-genre frustrates me on many occasions and my viewpoint isn’t subject to change any time soon. That said, when works like Elliot Goldner’s full-length debut, The Borderlands, land in my in-tray, it’s time for me to shut the hell up and give some props. Released stateside under the alternative title, Final Prayer, Goldner’s film effortlessly manages to transcend its origins and punch some way above its weight.

Set in a peaceful little town tucked away in the Devon countryside by the name of Newton Abbott, The Borderlands tells the tale of a trio of men commissioned by the Vatican to investigate reports of a suspected miracle in an old run down church that has recently been reopened to the public. Where so often the use of handheld cameras feels like a shameless gimmick, here it makes perfect sense as they are required to document their findings and this means donning head-cams and fitting the church in question up with surveillance cameras. Naturally the expectation is that these claims will be swiftly and decisively disproved and naturally it ain’t gonna be that easy.

Those Vatican types may know their stuff, but when it comes to the techy side of things, they’re well and truly out of their comfort zone. Thus they outsource English layman, Gray Parker (Robin Hill), to twiddle the knobs on their behalf and this proves to be a curious choice. You see, Gray is not in the least bit religious and neither is he a particularly strong candidate when it comes to his lighthearted work ethic and penchant for inappropriate tension-breaking humor. But he does know his stuff and is therefore considered an indispensable member of the team.

Gray has been teamed up with cynical Scottish hot-head, Brother Deacon (Gordon Kennedy), a man of the cloth with a long history of debunking paranormal activity the world over. Deacon is initially standoffish with his inexperienced sidekick and none too pleased with being paired with such an imbecile for a job which he happens to take very seriously indeed. Weary and crotchety, he stomps around like a sore-headed grizzly, and this unlikely match appears to have been made someplace far from heaven.

Completing the trinity is po-faced Irish priest, Father Mark Amidon (Aidan McArdle), more your strictly by the book kind of clergyman and not the greatest fan of Deacon’s methods or past performance. Neither is he particularly enamored with Gray’s cheeky chappy act and Mark makes it known to the pair in no uncertain terms that they’re skating on decidedly thin ice with the heavenly father.

Then we have Father Crellick (Luke Neal), the peculiar pastor of the parish in question who swears blind that the paranormal phenomena is no swindle and backs this up with no end of erratic behavior. It’s quite clear that not all the sheep are in the flock here and he is growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of belief shown by his God-fearing associates. Interestingly, the only one who trusts that something sinister is going in the chapel on is non-believer Gray, while the others are quick to dismiss it as an elaborate hoax.

The Borderlands opts for a decidedly slow burn approach, and in this respect, is no different from the leagues of found footage dross plopping into the marketplace seemingly every other week. However, what sets this apart from the competition is the relationship between Deacon and Gray. It’s amazing what a few glasses of red wine will do, and once the vino starts to flow, it’s impossible not to warm to the holy man. Moreover, while on first appearance, Gray feels like little more than comic relief (and grating at that), his character arc is no less defined. The chemistry between Kennedy and Hill provides the backbone for Goldner’s story and ensures that we remain soundly invested through any inescapable lulls in the narrative.

The fact that we actually care about the fate of our main protagonists makes their reactions even more believable once things begin to turn awry. The slow and steady approach then pays off in style as we head into a suitably claustrophobic closing act that takes the impending sense of dread and cranks it up to thirteen. When the conclusion comes, it’s both startling and unforgettable, the kind of pay-off that may well crawl beneath your skin and remain there indefinitely.

While The Borderlands hasn’t changed my opinion of a sub-genre that I grew tired of many moons back, it has reminded me just how effective a cinematic tool this can be, provided the groundwork is laid thoughtfully. Anchored by a pair of stellar performances, particularly Kennedy’s, Goldner makes the very most of his rural setting and the religious undertones of his story to craft something genuinely affecting that has the ability to stay with you long after the credits seep away. One thing’s for damn sure and I state this with God as my witness – I’ll be providing midnight mass with a decidedly wide berth for the foreseeable.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Dread Factor: 4/5

For the Dread-Heads: My advice here would be to stick with it, as while The Borderlands takes its sweet time getting to the gristle, it more than makes up for this in the kind of final third that recurring nightmares are made from. Mercifully, jump scares are kept to a minimum, and instead, it’s all about the daunting slide down and deeper into the belly of the beast.

Read As Above, So Below Appraisal
Read The Blair Witch Project Appraisal
Read The Taking of Deborah Logan Appraisal
Read Hollow Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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