The Borderlands (2013)
A small team are sent by the Vatican to investigate (and attempt to disprove) reports of supernatural "miracles" at a church in the English countryside. Is the jittery vicar with a dwindling congregation trying to create publicity for his church? Will the team find wires, hidden speakers, or other evidence of fakery? Or is there really something evil about the lonely church on the hill?
To be honest, when I first heard this was a 'found footage' horror film I was not optimistic. Sure, there are a few terrific examples of this genre - but for every Blair Witch Project and [Rec], there are probably a hundred dull or nonsensical imitations.
One of the strongest things about The Borderlands is the relationship between the two lead characters, which is at the centre of the film. Gray is a cocky tech guy, who took on the job simply because it was good money. He also adds some quick-witted humour to the mix ("Good luck with Edward Woodward!"). By contrast, Deacon is far more serious and cynical, has a long religious background, and is a heavy drinker. The characters are well written, well played, likable, and totally believable.
While there is one cheesy jump scare early on, most of the horror is created from eerie atmosphere and skilfully built tension. The scenes in the church late at night are particularly well done. And some of the most chilling moments are surprisingly understated, involving brief glimpses of things in the background that could easily be missed. The atmosphere is also enhanced by the excellent use of sound. There is no background music through the film, but some of the things I heard certainly had me sitting upright in my seat!
The theme of faith and belief is explored along the way. When the third member of the investigation team arrives, the only non-believer (Gray) is the one willing to accept a supernatural explanation, whereas the religious members insist on finding scientific evidence.
There were just a couple of things I wasn't convinced about. I wasn't sure why the team's accommodation (away from the site) needed to be rigged up with video equipment and required them to wear head cameras, other than to enable the story to continue while keeping it found footage. And I had a query about the equipment at the end of the film. But those are minor issues really, and didn't spoil anything for me.
Overall the film is a slow burn, without much 'action' in the first hour, but do stick with it. The tension is suddenly cranked up in the third act, and the pay off is well worth the wait. There is a big twist at the end, which may divide viewers as the story takes a sudden turn in a different direction. But whatever you think, it is certainly disturbing and unexpected.
The Borderlands makes great use of a small budget by using well-chosen locations, good writing, a small cast of decent actors, and instead of blowing the budget on flashy special effects, it concentrates on good old-fashioned, spooky atmosphere and storytelling to scare its audience. And don't be put off by the found footage label. This may even restore your faith a little.