Re:View – ‘The Borderlands’
Oh good, another found-footage scary movie – but wait, this one’s different because for once there’s an entirely reasonable explanation for the cast covering everything on film. And the way it’s been covered, while not exactly cheating, certainly suggests that a film editor has cut the footage together for theatrical release.
And more good news, there’s a connection to director Ben Wheatley here with the casting of Robin Hill from the superb ‘Kill List’, playing IT tech Gray, who’s been hired along with the hard-drinking Deacon to run routine tests on a remote English church where the priest is claiming miracle status. The pair are a great double act, Gray funny and down-to-earth, Deacon damaged but kindly, and they’re joined by the boss, a dour senior Vatican official who believes in science, not the supernatural.
The priest’s claim for a miracle looks bogus enough to be written off, but soon the church exerts its eerie power – as do the inhabitants of the local village, who don’t take kindly to outsiders. One night someone sets a sheep on fire outside their cottage, odd sounds are heard in the church, and its historical connections with the land are slowly revealed. Is the Vatican trying to conceal something unpleasant in its past, or trying to expose it?
Elliot Goldner’s film is so firmly rooted in its location that there’s very little hokiness about these events. As in Hammer’s underrated ‘Wake Wood’, there really does seem to be something alive in the landscape that can’t be shrugged off with one of Gray’s jokes. The trees rustle in the wind, the darkness is of the kind we never experience in the city, and soon Gray is out of his depth and heading for – what, exactly?
With the modernised spirit of MR James well evoked, we’re set for a horribly claustrophobic climax. And that’s where the controversy comes in. Just as some audiences complained about the ending of ‘Kill List’ (which I thought was entirely explicable) many will consider that this one crosses the line. I feel as if I made sense of it, although the final comment; ‘It’s moving!’ suggested an entirely new possibility.
While I’m all for refusing to explain every last detail of a story, I did feel that the outcome was a little too wilfully obscure, even though it was very unnerving to watch. The ending has led to a lot of negative online reviews, which is a great shame because there’s a lot here to enjoy. Let’s hope the director continues to bigger things without running off to Hollywood as Gareth Edwards did.