Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Borderlands


'Lovecraftian' is a term that seems to have become quite in-vogue recently but what does it actually mean? It would be easy to reduce it to the idea that it is "anything in what there is a big monster what comes along and does stuff" but it means so much more than just Cthulhu.
There is an overwhelming atmosphere of mystery and secrecy that permeates through all H. P. Lovecraft's stories incldung Call of Cthulhu. There is a force of doom which lies beneath the surface of everything, just waiting for something to disturb it enough to bring the end of the world - 'the fear of the unknown' and the uncontrollable progression of human curiosity, uncovering forces greater than imagined and more destructive than can be controlled. 

The Borderlands tells the story of Deacon (Gordon Kennedy), a world weary catholic priest who specialises in investigating and uncovering bogus miracle claims. He has been sent to the British West Country where a priest is has supposedly captured a miracle on video during a ceremony at his local church. The whole film is recorded on surveillance equipment by self acclaimed 'techy' Gray (Robin Hill) which includes head mounted cameras and microphones. They are joined by the authoritative, no-nonsense Mark (Aiden McArdle) and begin their investigation with suitable levels of skepticism and incredulity. Tormented by the local country bumpkins and their feelings of isolation, events slowly unravel that suggest there may be more to the miracle claims than hidden speakers and invisible strings. 

So The Borderlands was the first film I have had to watch twice before reviewing. I don't know why exactly but I really struggled to find a place to start. Even weirder is that it is not because it was boring or bad, far from it, I enjoyed this film a lot. Watching it a second time demonstrated just how well crafted and brilliantly constructed the story is. I think the main problem was that (I'm trying to stay away from spoilers here) the ending has such a brilliantly unexpected impact that it takes a second viewing to appreciate how subtly constructed the build up is. It is not some ludicrous M. Night Shyamalan twist or a cheap jump scare, it is a clever, suggestive and expertly executed pay-off.

Alwright guvn'r, how's ya father
and all that
It is by no-means perfect though, there are a number of annoying flaws which persist through the entire film. The biggest let down is the relentless over acting of Robin Hill. His character is meant to be annoyingly chipper and cheeky but he is portrayed as a cartoon character. His cockney accent and up-beat demeanor had me half expecting him to grab a chimney sweeping brush and start heel clicking his way down the street. Gordon Kennedy as a contrast is charmingly charismatic and thankfully the progression of the relationship between Deacon and Gray is one of the best elements of the film.

I'm also still not convinced that it really benefits from the found-footage format. The term 'found' is completely redundant in the genre now anyway and I would argue that in the majority of cases, including this one, the whole style is redundant. Where it does work is the static surveillance cameras which are used to familiarise the audience with the peace and tranquility of the surroundings, allowing the most understated of manipulations to carry great significance. I don't see any reason why this can't be done without a found-footage framing though. 

These problems do little to detract from the overall impact of the film. Even the terrible one-sided expositional phone-calls pass as a necessary evil to unravel the mystery, one intriguing step at a time. The pacing is very well handled, nothing ever being rushed but at the same time never dragging, expositional moments are woven into the narrative, often tightly enough to be missed completely. Director and writer Elliot Goldner has done incredibly well, especially considering this is his first full length feature, to create a story that holds it's own as a low-budget production by focussing on story and atmosphere. 

Faith and religion are dealt with very sympathetically and are a surprisingly minor theme in a story based largely around the faking of miracles and manipulation of the pious and naive. It is an inoffensive film in general, there are few moments to cause anyone much trouble. The nearest moment may be the burning of a sheep by local youths who cathartically do get their comeuppance later on. Some people may find it a bit uneventful and dull for the most part, but even though I didn't find this, I would most definitely recommend sticking with it until the end. 

The Lovecraftian comparison is most definitely warranted. The atmosphere of conspiracy and purposefully forgotten history is creepy and unsettling. I would recommend watching this twice, something I rarely even do myself, especially with so little time between viewings. There are a lot of plot points that can be easily cast aside as typical supernatural tropes but on re-watching have a more obvious unassuming importance. The Borderlands is thoroughly enjoyable in spite of it's flaws and has a final crescendo that is immensely satisfying.


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