DVD Review: 'The Borderlands'

Touted in some quarters as one of the best British chillers of recent years - whilst more fervent supporters have heralded it as the lone saviour of the found-footage genre - Elliot Goldner's The Borderlands (2013) reaches DVD this week with some considerable weight upon its slight shoulders. Whilst it's far from being either of the aforementioned, Goldner's debut has a solid (and knowingly familiar) basic premise and enough fresh twists to satisfy devoted fans of handheld bumps and jumps. Comparable - though inferior - to the finest works of Britshock directors Robin Hardy and Ben Wheatley, an ancient evil once again stirs in dear old Blighty.

Dispatched to a remote moorland church after a video emerges of a paranormal happening, world-weary Vatican investigator Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) teams up with the gadget-loving Gray (a fine Robin Hill) to survey the surroundings and document their investigations. Cameras are rigged and notes taken during the day, whilst tales are told and alcohol is consumed during the dark, lonely nights. Their solace is shattered, however, by the burning carcass of a sheep discovered just outside their lodgings - a presumed prank perpetrated by the surrounding area's roving teen gang. However, when even more bizarre occurrences start coming thick and fast, it's Deacon and Gray who become the sacrificial lambs.

Wheatley disciple Hill (star of Down Terrace) and TV actor Kennedy make for a sprightly double act, with the former's tech-obsessed imbecile bouncing off the latter's straight-faced Vatican investigator for some of the film's best comic moments. It's a shame, then, that The Borderlands seems to lose its dark sense of humour almost entirely in the final third, hamstrung as it is to generic convention right up until its 'where did that come from' twist dénouement. Cold winds howl, plastic sheeting rustles and books inexplicably fly off pughs inside the church's inner sanctum, driving its unhinged sentry Father Crellick (Luke Neal) to the edge of madness - much to the bemusement of the cynical Scot and increasingly perplexed Englishmen. Little do they know what lies beneath.

Ultimately, The Borderlands plays things safe when what was perhaps required was a wild leap of faith. As Vatican exorcist Father Calvino (a quite unnecessary Patrick Godfrey) arrives in the English countryside via helicopter (!?) to make doubly sure the church is free from demonic possession, one would be forgiven for expecting a final half-hour of The Devil Inside-style nonsense. That Goldner pulls a complete 360 with his film's last dying breaths is certainly commendable, but by then our relationship with Deacon and Gray has already been reduced to watching them tear around the church's barely visible interior, our view irritatingly obscured by some rather poor effects work dressed up as digital noise. After a strong opening half, what's left of The Borderlands is rather more difficult to digest.

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Daniel Green


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