HMZ Film exclusively interviews the creators and cast of The Borderlands
On Saturday 2nd November at the Mayhem Film Festival in Nottingham, HMZ Film had the pleasure of sitting down with the creators and cast of sensational horror film ‘The Borderlands’ for an in depth discussion.
Here is my short review having seen the film at Mayhem:
Plot: A pair of Vatican investigators are tasked with an exploration into an isolated country church where supernatural occurences are said to have taken place. With doubts circling over the authenticity of the claims, events take a startling turn for the worse…
The Borderlands is a game changer. Elliot Goldner shifts through the gears as action ranges from the utterly hilarious to the devastatingly terrifying. Underpinned by an important religious subtext, The Borderlands has reinvigorated the found footage sub-genre. Fine lead performances from Robin Hill (Down Terrace, Kill List) and Gordon Kennedy ground proceedings with a gritty realism. The tonal shift is expertly built into the church investigation; the setting is inherently creepy which lends itself to the deeply haunting and often startling moments of shock. The memorable ending is bold and will send shockwaves through the genre. A must see.
The hugely talented creators of the film Writer/Director Elliot Goldner ( @elliotgoldner), producer Jennifer Handorf ( @JHandorf), along with lead actors Gordon Kennedy ( @gordongkennedy) and Robin Hill ( @robin_hill) engaged in a fascinating discussion on all aspects of The Borderlands. We discussed the initial conception of the film, the decision to shoot in a found footage style format, the blend between the comic and terrifying plus the religious aspects of the story. With plans in place for a limited theatrical release in the UK in April 2014, this is definitely one to look out for.
You can follow all the latest developments of the film on their official Facebook page: The Borderlands movie
HMZ Film: Let’s talk about the genesis of the film, the inspiration behind it and how did you come up with the title?
Elliot: The title, that’s interesting, we didn’t really talk about it until a very erudite journalist at Fangoria picked up on a book called House on the Borderlands which is a Victorian horror novel about a guy finding a diary that contains stories about stuff that happens. It’s very different to our film but it was one of the early inspirations for it and The Borderlands title saw its way through to the end. It felt kind of relevant even though it’s not clear immediately why the film is titled that way; it has a lot of resonance to a number of things. It’s definitely worth checking out, it’s quite an interesting piece which was written in the late 1800s
Jennifer: It’s worth noting too, that for a short time the film was actually called ‘The devil Lies beneath’ which was a bit more of a commercial title, maybe a bit more on the nose but ultimately we went for the more artistic version which was great. We’re always happy to go with something subtler and not quite so in your face.
Elliot: (laughing) then some bastards bring out the computer game.
Jennifer: Who saw that coming 10 years before we came out!
Elliot: There is a church in Dartmoor called Brentor that gave visual inspiration which kind of kicked things off. It looks amazing and is definitely worth googling, you wouldn’t believe that it’s an actual church, it’s situated on a cliff but in the middle of nowhere!
Jennifer: It was brilliant; we had pursued filming there and were quite close to getting permission. It wouldn’t have been a problem but when we got there, it turns out that it’s only tiny. It’s up on a massive cliff, it looks majestic and grand. You climb up the cliff and get there, its 5 feet wide by 10 feet long and you can’t exactly film a movie in a space that small! Elliot went to a couple of churches we mapped out in the South west of England, we ended up at West Ogwell church.
Elliot: We saw a lot of churches which were very nicely restored as people care a lot about these buildings. A lot of the time, the churches were meant to inspire you as you walked in. They had loads of light coming in through the windows, you’re meant to see the light of God and stuff like that. There was something about West Ogwell that was instantly spooky when you opened the door. That’s the amazing thing about these churches, you can drive up there and nobody gives you the key. The door opens and all of a sudden you’re alone inside this really creepy place.
Jennifer: Ogwell is a site of bat conversation which interfered with filming. Once we established this as a location, it was revealed that the interesting green moss on the walls was discovered to be bat urine!. Some of our crew definitely became children of the night
HMZ Film (to the actors): What was about the script that got you both interesting in working on The Borderlands?
Gordon: They gave us the job! (laughing) I’ve never done a horror before; I liked the character and thought I could do it. I felt as if I could learn a lot along the way. I didn’t know Rob beforehand, we were allowed to improvise which was great
Elliot: On top of them being brilliant actors, they were great to work with.
Robin: From my end, I echo what Gordon says. Nothing particularly, I knew Jen and she suggested that I could be good for the role. I read it and liked it. I then spoke to Elliot on the phone. I’m not really a jobbing actor as such, I’m an editor by trade. I’ve done one other substantial role in Down Terrace, I said to Elliot that I’m not a particularly capable actor as far as these things go (laughs) but that I’m more than willing to come and give it a shot to do some improv. Elliot’s style was conducive to that and allowed us a fair degree of freedom within the story and within the structure of the scenes and the film. I got there and it was Gordon doing with me predominantly particularly in the opening part of the film. We got on like a house on fire and had a lot of fun making it
Elliot: I felt quite bad for Aiden (who plays Mark in the film) actually. I think it worked really well for the dynamic of the film, you two had been on set and had been acting together. Aiden turns up a little bit later and he’s like the antagonistic. He was doing some really funny improvisation but I had to tell him sorry! Just don’t be funny (laughs)
Jennifer: That’s because it didn’t fit in with his character, not that he wasn’t caring. His performances are always really strong but it’s just this character’s job is to be the stick in the mud. It’s not as much fun as the other roles but I think he absolutely succeeded in bringing all the role needs. He’s a brilliant actor as well.
Jennifer: It was the brief really. The brief was bought to Elliot that it should be a found footage film that involved a country church and there were a few more details beyond that. Truth be told, we got to the edit and some of the notes from the executives were ‘can you make it any less found footage?’ Obviously trends change. Over the course year and a half it takes to make a film, what was hot when you started isn’t necessarily hot when you finish
Gordon: What’s quite positive is that everyone starts by saying ‘I know this is another found footage BUT…’ and I think the style is becoming its own separate genre. I think for people to complain about that now is redundant. It’s a style of film like you might make a black and white or in a documentary format, found footage is just another style/genre or whatever you want to call it. There is a real reluctance to like that style at the moment because there have been a few poor ones since Paranormal Activity. So the reviewers are saying this is found footage but it’s OK don’t worry! As with any film: the beginning, middle and the end of it depend on you being interested enough in the characters that you won’t get bored no matter what the journey is. In this film, most people genuinely care. It wouldn’t matter if you made it in Swahili, It’s been interesting that there’s been a knock back on found footage. Cloverfield has been and gone, that was the action found footage film which worked.
Elliot: When people hear the word found footage, they think it’ll just be a bunch of teenagers running around in the woods screaming.
Gordon: We must be the one of the oldest found footage films out there!
Robin: Speak for yourself grandad! (laughs)
Elliot: People just assume that found footage isn’t going to have a narrative and will be entirely improvised. I suppose that it’s a stigma that we’ll have to get over.
Gordon: It’s fine because the people who like it always come back and say it works much better because it is found footage. I think it does. I don’t think this would be as good as it is now if it wasn’t found footage
Jennifer: I think so too, despite the fact it was in the original brief, there was a technical plus a financial reason to do it in that format. From a storytelling and creative reasoning, found footage makes sense in context of the story, in many ways is about judging the veracity of what you see and whether or not the image is truth. If you really want to get university cinematic film thesis on it, it’s what the characters are doing: judging whether or not they can believe their eyes and that’s a theme throughout the film
Robin: It’s built into the marrow of the bones of the story. In reality, where not making snowflakes! At some level it’s a product and it’s a horror film which is to some extent was on order from a distributor. That’s the reality but that doesn’t mean it can’t be distinctive, interesting and that we can’t make it brilliant. That’s not to say it is brilliant but our impulse on set wasn’t going ‘what time is it? Can I have lunch yet?’ It was about trying to make it interesting and to make the best of the fantastic location we had. It was about trying to make the characters funnier, more interesting, suspenseful and so on. I don’t think there’s another way to do it.
Elliot: I think it comes back to not believing everything you see and magic, that wouldn’t work if it wasn’t found footage. You’re seeing what is happening right in front you and it’s about whether you should you believe it or not? That’s the magic to it. I could drop a list of things when you watch other found footage films which don’t work, something like Cloverfield was a brilliant film.
Jennifer: There’s always a huge question mark as to why are you still filming!?
Elliot: That’s right, that’s the number one! I mean I’m sure there are faults in this film but i’m sure there not the usual ones. I wanted to get past that.
HMZ Film: I thought the mix between the whole spectrum of emotion from comedy through to real terror worked really well, how did you find balancing the horror with the comic ?
Gordon: I don’t think it was a balance, you want to push them both as far as you can. You want to get as funny as fuck and as scary as shit. If you don’t have that then why are you doing it? If that’s the playing field then you need to be.
Elliot: Take Saving Private Ryan for instance, the big take out from that there are a lot of deaths and horror but there are lots of jokes, there is humour everywhere where humans live and deal with things.
Jennifer: We’ve talked about it before where there’s horror and comedy, there akin to the same primal thing; where you build tension and you can break it with a laugh or a scream. I think, as you said, the balance in the film came out in the edit and finding where we can put a laugh and likewise a scream. How can we make them play off each other without seemingly being too far apart. In the filmmaking, like Gordon said, we just went all out.
Gordon: I think it’s when you don’t do that when you are selling everyone short.
Robin: From a performance point of view, there wasn’t really any distinction in particular in terms of saying this is a funny scene and this is a scary one. They have different functions and you play it as honestly as you can. You play some scenes for comedy and try to make it real and vice versa you play some for horror. It’s about trying to find the reality amidst it all. There aren’t any jokes as such used, there aren’t funny situations. I mean no one falls over, there are tiny bits of slapstick here and there but generally speaking it’s more about the character being funny instead of the situation being funny.
He’s just a funny person who’s wandered into a horror film as opposed to it being a comedy film. The situations aren’t funny and the lines aren’t. As my character becomes progressively involved in the events of the story, there aren’t any more jokes. He doesn’t say anything funny after a certain point in the film, I mean he’s genuinely scared and you see the character go from being quite light hearted to being terrified. The progression is hopefully reflected by the audience, from when you can be more laissez fare and then gradually becoming increasingly serious and terrified. This is not pick myself up but the idea is to continuously play it seriously. You play the jokes and horror in the spirit of the character and it’s all the same essentially.
HMZ Film: With regards to the religious aspect of the film, I guess you had to be very careful not to isolate the ultra- religious or the atheist? I think it was about playing it in the middle ground in order to avoid isolating sections of the audience?
Elliot: Starting off writing it with a lot of these things they want you to lay your cards out on the table straight away. This is real and therefore will be scary but it’s not always as black and white as that. I mean I’m not particularly religious except for occasionally like if I was on a plane which was about to crash I’d suddenly find religion! (laughs). It’s never over really and there’s always a bit of a battle, I wanted to see that reflected on the screen. Normally you would see a religious person and they are a figure of ridicule or there’s a cool vampire hunter. I wanted to have realistic doubt, I mean there people who devote their entire life to religion. I mean is that for real? I don’t know, maybe it is.
Jennifer: My father was a Deacon growing up, I’m personally not religious now but there are two moments in The Borderlands which really speak out. The first is where Gordon’s character Deacon says ‘priests can be sinners too’ and I think the humanity of religion is often forgotten and we see that in Mark’s character later when he says ‘Am I not a good man? Do I need to believe in medieval superstitions as well? I think that’s really interesting as there’s a lot of people who would describe themselves as having a great deal of faith who face the same struggles but conversely you get in Rob’s character (which was written by Sean Hogan) who says ‘the pagan’s believed in the sun, stars and the moon. They worshipped stuff and things that were in front of them’. If I’d choose between that and the great ‘what if?’ then I’d know what I’d choose. Reality beats all. I think that’s two very real perspectives on modern religion. You have people who believe but in a realistic flawed way. But then you have people who don’t believe as it’s not directly in front of them. I think it’s not an unkind film to either side and quite interestingly we were recently rejected from an Italian film festival because they felt we didn’t deal historically enough with the Vatican church. They felt we were too kind in our depiction in how the Catholic Church behaves with their congregation which is their prerogative and more power to them.
Gordon: Faith is a constant theme in it, as Rob said, his character descends into faith. The interesting thing is that Aiden’s character goes the opposite way, he’s just reached the end of it and thinks all this medieval stuff is rubbish. Deacon, in the middle, starts with Aiden as he’s been with the Vatican on a hundred jobs and it’s never a miracle. It’s always a fabrication. Yet there is a nagging and burning simple faith in him which makes him want to believe that something is going on in the church. Then at the end it’s much more about the people for him. He goes after his teacher because he has faith in him. It’s all those sorts of themes going on which I think we all deal with in everyday life, which of course are exaggerated in the film.
It’s the God particle, what if we find it there is no God? We are living in an age which all of this stuff is relevant and is in newspapers, look back 20 years ago and this sort of religious theme wouldn’t be anywhere near a newspaper. Now, with science and religious extremism, it is there all the time. Faith is a big deal. I suspect that’s what helped us as actors in that we were following a character path which informs you every step of the way which I found important. I had clarity about that, then you were clear in your performance and it comes across. It’s a subplot and in the background, I mean it’s a horror film and a bit of fun but behind it are those building blocks of any story. You need those firm foundations which you pin the story on to. He goes from not being a conspiracy theorist to sixty pages later believing in God! Everyone has their own journey in faith. Bizarrely it feels quite zeitgeist at the moment even though it’s a theme which feels so old fashioned.
Jennifer: Honestly if you look at Ti West’s The Sacrament and even two years ago The Last Exorcism, religious horror is still at the foreground despite religion maybe falling at the wayside.
Elliot: That’s the thing religion hasn’t gone away, it’s still here.
Jennifer: You’re right it’s gotten quite the foothold.
HMZ Film: So tell us about the plans for The Borderlands going forward? When will it be released?
Jennifer: Metrodome in the UK are putting the film out in April so buy your tickets early! It will have a small theatrical release, please do pimp our Facebook page as likes do matter for us. The film is being premiered at the American film market shortly which will heavily dictate our US release.
A huge thank you from HMZ Film to Mayhem festival and Jennifer, Elliot, Robin and Gordon for taking the time out to engage in such a fascinating interview. You guys will always have a friend and supporter here!
Thanks for reading