The Borderlands [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th April 2024).
The Film

Vatican investigator Deacon (Robin Hood's Gordon Kennedy) is summoned to a remote corner of the English countryside to investigate a miracle claimed by Father Crellick (Megan Leavey's Luke Neal) to have occurred at the altar in his church during a Christening. He is less-than-pleased to learn that the investigation is being supervised by Relator General Mark Amidon (The Duchess' Aidan McArdle) and that everything will be documented by tech specialist Gray (Kill List's Robin Hill) after concern about "gaps in the record" of Deacon's previous investigation in Bel้m, Brazil in which seven priests vanished and one cut out his own eyes after apparently seeing God.

As they search for signs of technical trickery, Gray is unable to explain the source of scratching, rumbling, and infant cries in the walls of the church. While he thinks that the seemingly sincere but Crellick may be a bit tapped, Deacon and Amidon are certain that the priest is trying to gain notoriety and revive his dying congregation. Probing the church records, Deacon learns that Crellick only reopened the long-deconsecrated church a few months ago and that the last minister of the church was Father Mandeville back in 1880 who claimed in his journals to have heard the voice of God telling him to found an orphanage in the village only to then realize to his horror that he has actually sworn allegiance to a "new master" that Vatican archivist/exorcist Father Calvino (A Room with a View's Patrick Godfrey) believes may be a long-dormant force from the church land's much earlier age of pagan worship.

A theatrical "found footage" feature dating from the late period in which the genre was largely the domain of streaming venue-courting independent filmmakers and the other theatrical iterations were of an increasingly disappointing lot – among them the franchises of consistently diminishing returns Paranormal Activity and V/H/S, along with the religious-themed The Vatican Tapes, The Devil's Doorway, and The Devil Inside – The Borderlands (released stateside under the less evocative title "Final Prayer" possibly as a crass commercial move or to prevent confusion with the video game franchise) manages to be effectively chilling and sometimes jolting even as it works within and even employs the limitations of the found footage format at a time when genre filmmakers were just about to re-coin the term "folk horror". With more of a justification than usual to have the cameras always on and documenting everything, the film builds character in a manner suited to the format but exploited, with the reversal of a believing technician and a skeptical priest – along with another whose insistence on possible scientific explanations actually come across as another form of closed-mindedness in a religious figure – explored through a combination of scripted and improvised exchanges that come across as naturalistic and engaging.

The familiar subplot aspect of Vatican secrecy and church politics is also given just enough screen time for the viewer to question ulterior motives behind the rare instances in which the church accepts a phenomenon as a miracle, and Amidon's rant against "magic" and "empty rituals" suggests that some religious authorities do indeed see the church as a bureaucracy and an agent of social control. The atmosphere of the church and the surrounding village is believably chilling and desolate in the best tradition of English rural horrors – more so than the somewhat less-successful Paranormal Diaries: Clophill which seemed to use darkness to cover up the fact that the admittedly creepy location is a well-trodden tourist attraction as well – with only the hostility of the villagers seeming like a lazy shorthand rather than a genuine element of dread, while the gooey climax may put seasoned horror viewers in mind of a certain eighties campier treatment of an English legend outrageously adapted by Ken Russell from the novel by Bram Stoker (CLICK HERE for spoilers). Writer/director Elliot Goldner has subsequently worked in genre-themed fictional and reality television, which may either be seen as an outgrowth of this "found footage" experiment or an indication of the difficulty of getting British horror movies greenlit about the DIY level.


An original production commissioned by British theatrical and home video distributor Metrodome just three years before their collapse, The Borderlands had a theatrical release in the U.K. and then went to DVD through Metrodome while in the U.S. it was released as "Final Prayer" through LionsGate by way of their distribution deal with Grindstone Entertainment. Second Sight's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray – simultaneously released in limited and standard editions (the latter without special casing and paper extras) – presumably comes from the same master as all other editions since the film was shot and finished on HD video (despite the producer on the commentary hoping the new edition better shows off a visual gag that theatrical projection and DVD might have rendered murkier due to the low-key lighting). With a mix of static surveillance-style cameras and a professional rig standing in for the lipstick cameras worn by the characters – the actors recall with amusement getting quite intimate with cinematographer Eben Bolter (Road Games) who was tethered to them during their respective camera POV shots – the image is sharp and crisp when it wants to be and digitally-manipulated in grading and the addition of video glitches at other points. Blacks are variable, and one suspects that the evidence of crush is part of the augmented texture of glitches, dropouts, and hiding the mechanics of scares involving moving objects.


The sole feature audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that wonderfully conveys the film's ambitious sound design which boasts clear dialogue but also directional sounds, bangs, whispers, and disembodied voices throughout. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included that may give the game away at some points by all too clearly identifying the owners of said voices before they become more evident to viewers without impairments who regularly use subtitles (it might be wise for such viewers to watch the film without subtitles first and then again with them).


While earlier releases included a featurette identified sometimes as "cast and crew interviews" or behind the scenes (31:38) – which has been carried over here – Second Sight has produced a quartet of new extras starting with an audio commentary by actors Robin Hill and Gordon Kennedy, producer Jennifer Handorf and special effects artist Dan Martin which is an energetic and jokey affair that conveys a lot of anecdotes and factoids – among them the use of a South London church for the Brazil scenes which was subsequently used for the Hill and Kennedy interview, Kennedy getting back spasms trekking up to the location, the chemistry between Kennedy and Hill and the amount of their improvisation, choosing the church because it had access to bathrooms and running water that turned out to be situated in the next door Buddhist meditation center who allowed them to use the facilities until the outdoor shooting of a blasphemous scene, extras casting, and references to material that did not make the final cut (explaining some prominent character credits in the cast who seem like extras and bit parts in the finished film), identifying the leader of the village youths who takes a punch as Drew Casson who was training to be a stuntman but gave it up when he became a director instead, and noting that first assistant director Tom Ackerley's next job was I, Tonya where he met actress Margot Robbie who he subsequently married and ended up producing Barbie for her – but demonstrates why separate interviews with the commentators are not always so redundant.

In "Dressed the Part" (30:02), features actors Hill and Kennedy sitting in the church used for the Brazil scenes in the film with omnipresent rain overhead. Hill recalls not expecting anything to come of producer Jennifer Handorf's offer to cast him in a project initially and then his concern since he is primarily an editor and writer whose prior role in Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace was written to his strengths as an improvisational performer, while Kennedy recalls auditioning for the film. The two discuss their initial concerns about the "found footage" format and its strengths along with their improvising and riffing off the script.

In "Losing Faith" (30:11), producer Handorf recalls that after Metrodome had picked up The Devil's Business and Jezz Vernon a Whistle and I'll Come to You-style horror film but using the "found footage" format; indeed, she recalls having the "Ghost Stories for Christmas" episodes in mind along with The Stone Tape (of which she has been trying to get the rights to make her own version of it). She recalls her reservations about the trend since it might have gone out of style by the time the film was finished, but that Metrodome subsequently regretted not backing the film more upon release. On the commentary, she mentioned that there were reshoots to make sense of the film, but here she goes into more detail, noting the contributions of Raised by Wolves' James Moran and The Devil's Business's Sean Hogan to the script at different stages, and also reveals that the three credited editors worked on the film at different stages rather than together starting with reality TV editor Jacob Proctor.

"Monster Goo" (15:41) is an interview with special effects designer Dan Martin focusing primarily on the different formulas for creating the goo used by him not only in the climax of the film but also in films like Infinity Pool and In Fabric as semen. He also reveals that he worked on the film's tunnel effects as well as the pyrotechnical sequences.


The limited edition comes in a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Christopher Shy, a seventy-page book with new essays by Tim Coleman, Martyn Conterio, Shellie McMurdo and Johnny Walker, as well as six collectors' art cards (none of which was supplied for review).


A theatrical "found footage" feature dating from the late period in which the genre was largely the domain of streaming venue-courting independent filmmakers and the other theatrical iterations were of an increasingly disappointing lot, The Borderlands manages to be effectively chilling and sometimes jolting even as it works within and even employs the limitations of the found footage format at a time when genre filmmakers were just about to re-coin the term "folk horror".


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