Movie Review: The Borderlands (2013)

Most "Found Footage" movies are crap. It's not really a knock on the genre; it's a sheer numbers game. These days, they come out more often than a James Patterson novel, especially if you're apt to watch the seemingly endless supply of obscurity Netflix has to offer, the stuff we used to call "straight-to-dvd," and when everybody and your mama's trying to cash in on the not-at-all-coincidentally low-budget trend, you're gonna find a good pile of movies not worth anyone's time.

So watching The Borderlands was a nice, slow, dreadful treat, even if it isn't a perfect movie.

 Huh. Somewhere, there's a one-sheet designer who really, really liked "Cabin in the Woods."

Huh. Somewhere, there's a one-sheet designer who really, really liked "Cabin in the Woods."

Our set up? Typical. There's been a "happening" at a rural English church, an small, barely tended building in the ominous hills of the countryside. The Vatican has sent a team of investigators to ascertain whether or not it should be considered a miracle. Obviously things proceed spookily from there, or there wouldn't be much of a film.

It's a slow movie, but having watched a lot of similar set-ups verve into complete and utter dullness as characters prattle on in obviously ad-libbed conversations about nothing for half their run time, I never found myself bored. It's a lot of little things, really. There's not a lot of set-up, and Eliot Goldner, writer and director, trusts the viewer to put the obvious pieces together and understand the situation where the typical film would dump exposition in completely unnatural dialogue. The clever use of wearable cameras stepped around any moment where we'd ask the natural "Why are they still filming this?" questions when the third act rolls around, and Goldner has a good understanding of how to use the tropes of the genre, the first-person shots, the static shots of empty rooms, to build tension without leaning on them to simply fill time.

It also really, really helps that the acting is strong. Robin Hill and Gordon Kennedy, who play Gray the camera-expert and Deacon the hard-drinking believer with a dark past respectively, hold the movie together with their evolving relationship, as the growing report between them is what makes those developmental scenes, the obligatory setting up of the static cameras, the sharing of personal histories over drinks, all of the moments where your pedestrian flick of this ilk would turn into a complete slog, instead, entertaining and believable. There's good chemistry there, and both put in authentic performances.

 Apparently, if I was British, I'd already know who this guy is. Sorry, guys. Just never been into all that wibbly wobbly, timey wimey business. Cheerio.

Apparently, if I was British, I'd already know who this guy is. Sorry, guys. Just never been into all that wibbly wobbly, timey wimey business. Cheerio.

There's not a great deal of violence. It's not that kind of horror. Instead it's about dread. Lovers of H.P. Lovecraft will find a lot to like here, especially when the old, forgotten journals with ancient, unknown symbols pop up, but if you need more energy, more running-through-the-woods vigor, it's probably not your speed. There's a recurring "glitch" effect that, frankly, did nothing but annoy me, and the proverbial bumps in the night get a tad bit repetitive before the last turn kicks the movie into high-gear, but it's certainly creepy, and subtle, and shows a great deal of polish, all things you tend not to get from a found-footage flick.

I've sat through much worse and felt like I'd gotten my money's worth. If you like the genre, and the description doesn't scare you away, you'll like it.