The Borderlands (2013)

By 2013, there were about a billion found footage flicks crowding the genre, so it can be almost impossible to find all of the ones that are worth your time. Directed by Elliot Goldner, this is a movie that sounds simple and even forgettable on the surface - the catholic church sends some guys to the English countryside to investigate claims from a small church about a miracle - it’s the story here that makes this one rise into the realm of being discussion-worthy. Haven’t seen The Borderlands (AKA Final Prayer)? Then we highly recommend bailing on this because things are about to get spoilery and spoilers matter in this one?... Still here? OK cool. Let’s go.

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Reviewed by: Jake

 
 

Plot Synopsis

Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) is sent by the Vatican to investigate reports of miracles and other supernatural claims the world over. His newest adventure brings him to the English countryside where he meets Gray (Robin Hill) who is a contracted tech-guy charges with setting up and recording everything in the investigation per Vatican protocol. The two investigate a very small, extremely old church headed by the young Father Crellick (Luke Neal), and he shows them video of a baptism where seemingly supernatural events shook the church. The two investigators are met by Father Mark Amidon (Aidan McArdle) who is charged with leading the investigation. Mark is a prickly leader and does things by the book while Deacon is an old hand and has seen some shit, so he is naturally skeptical of the claims, even after seeing the video footage. The three set up equipment in the church and begin to experience some abnormal things including scratching sounds from within the walls and the distant sounds of children crying. While conducting their investigation they encounter Father Crellick as they experience some possible supernatural occurrences. Crellick runs to the top of the bell tower and explains that what he had initially thought was a miracle now has him afraid that it is something far worse. He then leaps off the tower to his death. Deacon brings in a Vatican exorcist names Father Calvino (Patrick Godfrey) to examine the grounds while Mark is convinced the whole thing should be called off after Crellick’s suicide and written up as a fraud. Deacon convinces the group to go back to the church once more and shit immediately goes down.

 
Don’t  go chasin’ miracles…

Don’t go chasin’ miracles…

 

During their cleansing ritual, loud noises interrupt and the church shakes as if there is an earthquake. The ruckus leaves Mark apparently dead, and Father Calvino is seen bleeding from his eyes before disappearing into the underbelly of the church. Deacon and Grey attempt to chase after him so they can all escape, but as they progress further into the catacombs below the cathedral, they experience more odd noises. Deep in the recesses of the church they come upon a sacrificial altar and cages. They piece together that pagan ritual sacrifice of children had happened in the catacombs. They begin seeing Mark in the tunnels and follow after him, eventually entering a small corridor they have to crawl through. The edges begin to get smooth and a powerful stench arises. Before the men know what’s going on, the tunnel closes up and begins to secrete an acid that burns them to death as if it is a digestive enzyme in the guts of some giant beast. The end. WHAT.


What the Movie Does Right

Mark wrote this exact line last week and it’s super apropos here so I’m leaving it in… The uniqueness of the story is something that immediately caught my attention. Not from a ten thousand foot view, of course, because that would make this seem like a run of the mill found footage flick about some dude filming spooky shit in a church. It sort of is, but then there is that little matter of the movie’s finale. This movie chooses to have these guys stumble into the literal guts of some weird old god and get digested alive. That is something I’ve never seen before and I’ll be damned if it didn’t catch me off guard. If you watched this movie and claim you weren’t surprised you are fucking lying.

 
Sure, this is uncomfortable and all, but it’s about to get soooo much worse…

Sure, this is uncomfortable and all, but it’s about to get soooo much worse…

 

Another big win for this movie is the characters. Deacon and Gray interact in an extremely believable way and it’s easy to watch for the duration of the film. Both characters are interesting for different ways and there is a lot of backstory on Deacon that the movie doesn’t spoon-feed you but you can gather as the story unfolds. He’s a particularly complex character and fills his role well alongside Gray’s humor and Mark’s douchiness.


What the Movie Does Wrong

For any found footage movie, there are the obvious rules that must be followed. First, establish a reason for filming. This movie does that. Second, have a reason to keep filming. This movie does that, too. Third, have a reason why we are seeing this footage today. That means there needs to be a way in which the footage was found, and a reason why it was cut together for our viewing pleasure as an audience. That’s where things start to fall apart for this one. First, though the ending was amazing and bonkers, there is also pretty much no way that footage is getting out. Obviously the instrumentation was destroyed along with the dude’s in the belly of the beast, so we have to believe that the footage was being piped back to Gray’s mission control and saved digitally. I can’t even get cell service in a building with thick walls in the middle of a city in the US. These dudes are hundreds of feet underground inside a mountain. That footage isn’t making it out.

Also, quick shout out for the movie poster. Look at it (it’s at the top of the post). Not that I’m saying this is an easy movie to make a poster for, nor am I suggesting it should spoil anything, but come on. That’s insane.


Ratings (1-10)


Story: 6.5 - As I mentioned, the conceit of the film is pretty standard here. Dudes investigate a spooky church. That’s nothing new. And for 90% of the film, nothing really new happens… Then there’s the ending. The batshit choice this film makes in having guys wander into the stomach of some unseen behemoth is weird, creepy, and really gnarly. It saves this category from being a very low score.

World-Building / Immersion: 7 - Before I start here it’s important to mention that found footage either floats your boat or it really doesn’t. For the most part, I find it to be a device that works for me from an immersion standpoint, though I know some people will have huge issues getting into the format. I also mentioned that the final element of the found footage equation is lacking in this one, but that really doesn’t effect this score too much for me because it’s at the very end of the movie.

Scare-Factor: 5 - Overall, this is a bit of a slow burn with a few dumb/cheap jump scares in the first two acts but that ending is fucking unsettling. It’s one that gets worse the more you think about it because of just how viscerally terrifying that situation would be.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5 - The found footage element comes into play again here because, as is the case with many found footage flicks, the format can hide/make up for a lot. On the whole, I don’t think there are a ton of instances where things look great, and on the other hand there really aren’t many instances where things look shitty. However, there are several instances where you can notice the movie stepping around having to show something. That’s relatively cheap, yes. But it’s also smart to know limitations and focus on doing everything else right. I just can’t in good conscience pot this rating at the average line.

Overall: 7 - This is getting the ol’ tilt up from me because it’s an under the radar found footage film that is well acted and extremely unique in terms of the way it chooses to go. IF you can stick with it, which isn’t difficult given the easy relationship between Deacon and Gray, you’ll be rewarded with something you probably haven’t even come close to seeing before.