Saturday, August 9, 2014

In short: The Borderlands (2013)

I find myself having to go against consensus about a contemporary horror movie again in the case of Elliot Goldner’s much praised The Borderlands. A trio of investigators is sent by the Vatican to examine a supposed wonder in a church in England, and find more than they bargained for.

This time around, my dislike for the film at hand isn’t based on my finding the film at hand competent yet annoying (hello The Conjuring) but because it’s one of these “almost there” films whose flaws distract me too much to get anything out of its actual achievements.

Starting out with the positive, Goldner does show a very promising talent for establishing the mood of a place, and – one of the more important abilities when you’re doing classically shaped supernatural and folkloric horror as The Borderlands does – suggesting that its characters are doomed right from the start without ever telling this to the audience outright, aiming for a sense of disquiet.

Alas, it is exactly here where the film’s finale falters completely for me, giving up the ambiguity for an ending so silly, it must have looked brilliantly strange on paper, but that left me very disappointed actually having to sit through it. Theoretically, I should praise a found footage movie for actually making quite clear what happens to its characters in the end, in practice, however, this particular ending just demonstrates that ambiguity in horror films of this style can be a very good thing. With the ending as it is, much of the film feels like a build-up to something special that unfortunately never comes; instead, we get something strangely out of tone with the rest of the film.

The other big negative factor for me was Robin Hill’s performance as agnostic technician Gray, a character that manages to take on all the atrocious characteristics of odious comic relief, annoying tech guy division, without actually being comic or relief. This wouldn’t be all that bad if the script had the sense to tone him down after the first strange things begin to happen to his colleagues and him, but he stays whiny-voiced and annoying throughout. Hill’s very broad approach to the role doesn’t help Gray’s case either, with hardly a second of his face visible on screen going by that could not be accompanied by warning signs saying “Warning! Acting in progress!”. The rest of the acting is better, though the characters are very underwritten and one-dimensional – there’s the annoying whiny guy, the by-the-book modern priest, the more spiritual alcoholic doubter with a past, and little what happens to them will surprise or enlighten anyone. while the film’s approach to paganism versus Christianity doesn’t suggest a single idea I’ve not seen or read better realized in quite a few movies and dozens of stories - as if the last fifty years of British rural/folkloric horror with an influence of the Weird hadn’t happened.

In the end, The Borderlands as a whole just doesn’t come together for me, its flaws magnified because they hit the film in important places; I am quite interested in what Goldner will do next though, for while he doesn’t seem to be there yet, The Borderlands does show so much promise I’d be very surprise if the director’s next film (or the one after that) would not turn out excellent.

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