DVD/Blu Ray

The Borderlands (15) |Home Ents Review

Dir. Elliot Goldner, UK, 2013, 89 mins

Cast: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle

Review by Colin Dibben

Ten years on from its first release, this intriguing and tense Brit found footage horror gets the Blu-ray treatment.

A small team of Vatican-backed paranormal investigators rocks up at a graffiti-covered Devon church after being called in by the local priest. Deacon (Kennedy) is a hard-drinking middle-aged Scot, struggling to come to terms with a previous investigation that went wrong. Gray (Hill) is a younger, loud-mouthed independent contractor, who acts as cameraman and techie. Father Mark (McArdle) is the lead, although he is so disinterested that he doesn’t turn up for a couple of days.

Gray starts by ensuring that Deacon and himself wear their head-mounted cameras at all times. Soon he has also installed cameras and sensitive audio equipment in the church itself; and it is time for us viewers to sit back and watch the spooky goings on unfold.

The Borderlands is a masterclass in keeping low-budget horror intriguing as well as scary. The story behind the embedded cameras is told with a minimum of fuss and a max of credibility. The real locations feel spot on: not just the church but the house and village the investigators stay in – the latter comes replete with hoodies by the bus stop. Some of these elements may not even be production designed but simply found, which suggests that there is something inherently disturbing about rural communities and their domestic furnishings in the UK, at least when security style cameras are turned on them.

It takes a certain kind of acting to make the embedded camera format work and thankfully Kennedy and Hill are good at it. Deacon is always glancing at Gray in a nervous way that is supposed to be protective; meanwhile Gray is on the phone to his agency or hunkered down over the equipment. The script has just enough wit to make you like these guys, without being knowing and annoying.

The focus on what you might call ‘real materiality’ that comes with the low budget and the embedded cameras works really well. You aren’t looking at an overdesigned studio set; that is a real church and you are looking at it through the format of a security camera. The tech that Gray describes using is the tech that delivers the film to us.

This adds something strange to the experience: you are not 100 percent sure what you are watching in the haunting scenes as the cameras don’t lead your expectations the way they do in a normal horror film. Is that plastic cover moving or do you just think it is? What are we actually seeing through the camera?

Not that you are kept in this state of anxious unease all the time: the climax is very strange indeed and gives new, literal meaning to the phrase ‘bowels of the earth’.

The Borderlands Limited Edition Blu-ray Box set & Standard Edition Blu-ray are available on 15 April from Second Sight Films.