The Borderlands (2014)

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“Insufferable prick makes documentary” is the premise behind a good eighty percent of all found-footage horror films, but he real departure here is that The Borderlands is actually really good, when it eventually gets going. It invokes the parochial horror of The Blair Witch Project and the always-on Big Brother-style paranoia of Paranormal Activity, with a smattering of The Wicker Man and a bit of The Descent thrown in for good measure. So far, so standard. However, the biggest impression I got from the head-mounted cameras and the jokey, Cockney banter, was that the film plays like a particularly scary episode of hit Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show. This isn’t the only sitcom reference to be found here – there’s a priest named Father Crellick (suspiciously similarly to Father Ted‘s Ted Crilly, perhaps?), and one of the main characters is played by Gordon Kennedy, actor and comedian who UK viewers will recognise as a regular face on TV with appearances most recently in Sherlock, among others.

This all adds together to a strange, and strangely watchable, parapsychological fable. Kennedy, Aidan McArdle and Robin Hill play a pair of Vatican investigators, sent to the West Country to look into reports of bizarre happenings in a remote church, to verify them and see if whatever is going on qualifies as a miracle. What this means is that the first half of the film is basically a mystery thriller, about how this vicar is faking what looks like a pretty solid religious event. Just like in The Wicker Man, the scares here begin as a series of relatively low-wattage happenings that get increasingly worse as the film goes on. It soon becomes clear that the team aren’t welcome in this little community, and more to the point, that something more powerful than they’d perhaps anticipated has other ideas. On first impressions, Grey and Deacon might seem like a mismatched couple but as the film wears on it turns out that Deacon has been in this position before – a small town that is less than willing to reveal its secrets to outsiders – and he’s not about to let it go without a fight.

While functionally useless – they weren’t actually used for the making of the film – there’s dramatic irony going on with the use of head-mounted cameras in that we’re privy to happenings before the cast aware of them, as the differing levels of visual interference the cameras experience changes with the paranormal activity in the area. I’m fully aware that this sort of thing has been done before but it’s really, really creepy, and a very effective way of ramping up the tension, when all the equipment is going wrong around them and they have no idea. For a film that is basically  in a church, it has a surprising amount of original shocks up its liturgical sleeve. Most of them involving loud noises and people drunkenly stumbling around in the dark.

Then, as the ending kicks in, the whole thing takes an insane left turn and becomes something completely different. I really don’t want to say what happens, but let’s just say that there is a more powerful force behind what’s going on, and that this force is ultimately destructive. I really did not anticipate how the film would end, nor could I, but it ends up elevating the production and making it more than just another found footage movie. There are a few plot points that completely don’t make sense, and in fact if you think about it, the ending sort of wrecks the very idea of the film being composed of “found footage”, but the fun you’re having watching it is so much fun that you really don’t care at that point. It’s bleak, dark, suffocating, claustrophic, and incredibly atmospheric, and so much better than it has any right to be.

Turbonegro

My favourite band is Turbonegro, and I have absolutely no idea why. I guess something about the combination of humour, fuck you attitude and sheer balls of their sound and image does something for me on a deep, elemental level. I’ve loved them since I first heard Scandinavian Leather, bought from HMV after reading a glowing review of the record in Kerrang! magazine. They’d enclosed the song “Get It On” on a compilation CD of the weeks hot tracks and I was completely hooked from the first riff. They are crude and their appeal is totally primal, unexplainable on an intellectual level but deeply satisfying. You can’t fight it, or reason with it, you just need to absorb it and understand that their songs have changed your life. My life, anyway.

I’ve been lucky enough to see them live whenever they’ve toured the UK since I’ve been aware of them. They’ve done festival dates which I didn’t go to because fuck festivals. I saw them play Supersonic 2011 in Birmingham, which is also the city where I first saw them in the old Carling Academy in 2005. It was a five band line-up which also included The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – I don’t remember any of the other bands, I just remember Turbonegro and Eighties Matchbox blowing my 18 year old mind. My love of Eighties Matchbox subsided with time, even though I do listen to their debut now and again. For some reason, my feelings towards Turbonegro never waned or changed with age – in fact, it seems like the band are evolving their sound to match my tastes. They’ve been a musical entity for roughly as long as I’ve been alive (give or take a few years, and a few break-ups), and like the best bands I feel like I can track my life against their albums.

When Hank left the second time, I couldn’t see how the band would survive, and for a few years they didn’t. I tried to listen to the band he went on to form, Doctor Midnight and the Mercy Cult, but they were so awful that I don’t think I even finished the album. To put that into context I’ve listened to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music in its entirety, and enjoyed it. When the new singer Tony joined and they premiered “You Give Me Worms” – the first song from Sexual Harassment a.k.a. the first album post-Hank – on Daniel P. Carter’s Radio 1 Rock Show, somehow the band sounded more potent than they ever had before. While I’d always enjoyed the late period-Hank albums – Retox and Party Animals – neither of them had the urgency or latent threat of Apocalypse Dudes or Scandinavian Leather. The threat on those former records was palpable to the listener, and their enjoinder that “Turbonegro Must Be Destroyed” seemed like a message of great urgency. With “You Give Me Worms”, the band sounded like they had their grit back. They’d detuned to match the pitch of Tony’s depths-of-hell holler and as a result they’d mutated, or evolved, into a more muscular musical unit. Sexual Harassment is a hell of an album, and it’s a great thing that they don’t sound like a band traditionally sounds after twenty years. They’ve still got it together to put out “Shake Your Shit Machine”, and still have the requisite nihilism to pull off “Dude Without A Face”.

I feel like with every new band I listen to, I’m searching for something that will reach into me in the way that Turbonegro has. I want to knock them off their perch, and I want them to fail. I want a band to supersede them. I thought I’d found it when I first listened to Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, which is probably my favourite album of all time, but their other work doesn’t grab me nearly as much. No band I’ve yet listened to has so strong a body of work that it could topple Turbonegro from the pedestal I’ve put them on, but I’ll never stop trying. It’s a hobby.

Bragging

I think it’s good to keep a sense of perspective. Be sensible. Don’t rush things, or appear desperate. Do your own thing. Don’t push. Take your time. Think it through.

All my life, I’ve had pretty good luck. I’m not saying that I won the National Lottery in utero or anything, but that a lot of the time things tend to go my way. I don’t really believe in luck – it’s more being in the right place at the right time – but I believe you can use your gut to work out where that place is, or when that time is.

I spent a year abroad, teaching in China with my better half. I had the best placement on the entire course – total freedom to do whatever I wanted with children I only saw once a week. We watched TV shows, had interesting discussions, played word games – nobody else had this experience. Every other person I spoke to would find themselves either bogged down with work, or in the middle of some Kafkaesque nightmare. I was never arrested, never deported, never mugged – the closest I came to criminality was somebody offering me hashish in the lift at Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong.

If you go to Hong Kong, stay at Chungking Mansions. It’s a sight to behold. Talk about a fucking melting pot.

On my return I managed to find an incredibly well-paying job, with short hours – hours I use to write. I’m pretty good at keeping a writing schedule. It’s rare I don’t write at least two things a day, be they news pieces or reviews for various sites. I have enough cash for gigs, to run a car, to book holidays.

I know that I am fortunate. I know that I am lucky to be able to perform reasonably well in a role that I enjoy. I like writing. It helps me to organise my thoughts. I’m not a very good talker, but I love to read, which helps my writing. I’m sorry if you’ve heard this all before.

I thought I had a great idea for a novel the other day – you know that song “The Impossible Dream”? Well, I thought it’d be cool if that song were actually a musical record of one man’s adventure, and that maybe I could tell the story of that adventure.

As it turns out, that is actually what “The Impossible Dream” is. It’s the main song from the musical Man of La Mancha, which in turn is based on Don Quixote. Being a total moron who doesn’t know anything about musicals, I effectively thought that maybe I’d write Man of La Mancha. What a dickhead.

I really like the idea of repurposing existing works, like that. They can’t all be from musicals based on classic Spanish novels, can they? Is “My Way”, the song I regularly conflate “The Impossible Dream” with anyway, suitable for a novelisation? It’s a bit old-hat, really. It’d have to be a song everybody has heard, but people aren’t sick of.

I suppose all I have to do is listen to every song ever recorded. Better start now – I’m not getting any younger. Like I said, I’m fortunate. Sigh.

Delinquency

I’ve got to say, I’m reassured by casual delinquency. The sun was setting and I was walking to my nearest Oriental Food and Drink Emporium as I came upon a group of youngsters standing on the bridge, smoking cigarettes, talking loudly to each other. Obviously they didn’t look up at me – life isn’t like an episode of Eastenders; these days you’ve got about as much chance of being set upon by a group of youths as you have of farting an alligator – but I felt myself reassured by the path that they had chosen in life, the well-trodden space that they had felt compelled to occupy, that of “teens smoking fags on a bridge”.

The whiffs of marijuana emanating from beneath said bridge as I crossed it only served to warm my cockles further, as I felt it was a timely return to good old fashioned teenageriness. You need to be sufficiently engaged with the world to act against it, and the way that we cast teenagers as a miserable lonely cable looking forlornly for a USB port to “jack into” isn’t always correct. These children were outside, nary an iPod in sight, but they did have fags that they’d nicked from their mum’s bag. And who the fuck knows what kind of dirty sleazy man or woman sold the kids under the bridge weed, but it’s reassuring to know that those kind of dirty sleazy men or women still exist in our all too sterile world. Their stinky jumpers give our own cossetted world some pep, they are the catfish that keeps us cod fresh. The joyful pang of cannabis in the nostrils on a walk about town is a handy reminder that not everyone is as chemically pure as you are, and it’s not something one could easily recreate digitally.

It’s happened before. I’ve never been accosted by groups of football kicking youngsters, obviously, but it’s always felt like a slight possibility. I could see it happening on the horizon of my peripheral vision, and I don’t think it’s an experience I’d shrink from. Maybe I’m giving these children too much credit, and maybe their weed smoking bridge gathering is just the lunkheaded hivemind at work, a group of five or six teens so bored and unengaged that they huddle together for warmth and braincells. Maybe the kids under the bridge had  just boiled up a pot of Earl Grey tea, and were sitting with their nans – strong Earl Grey tea smells uncannily like Sweet Lady M. Maybe it was the former, maybe it was the latter. Who knows?

One thing is for sure – children may be more chemically aware at a younger age than those of previous generations, but they are certainly more polite. Give me an awkward encounter in a shop doorway with a teenager doing kick-ups over a forty year old businessman any day. If you expect an apology from a forty year old businessman after bumping into him and his important job, you can get fucked. Bump into a teen and they’ll apologise and move out of your way, probably even hold the door open for you. We only think differently because forty year old businessmen run the world – have you been in the Gifford in Wolverhampton on a Saturday night? Full of forty year old businessmen, in sweater vests and rimless glasses. Fuck them, kick a football and smash the glass of their rimless glasses.

What

Our late snowfall has meant that the beginning of the year has taken on an atmosphere of mild peril. I had a day off for the heaviest snowfall and found myself driving at about 9am, sky grey, the Mamas and the Papas blasting and my birthday camera on the passenger seat heading towards our local area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I realised as I walked around, taking pictures, that I’d never been in a forest in the snow before and it was one of those moments that you’d probably call a religious experience, if you were that way inclined. I’m not at all spiritual but in that moment I did feel glad to have decided to leave Peep Show for one morning and get out amongst the snowy boughs. I also got some satisfaction from seeing how well my Christmas boots performed in the snow.

Life continues apace. I’m writing frequently, still struggling with a subpar keyboard but it’s nice having to wrestle to get ideas onto a screen. Each word matters. I’ve pitched some more ideas for a humourous thing and have about a million articles for Movie Farm lined up, ready to fire off once or twice a week. I complain about not having any ideas when what I should really complain about not focusing on coming up with stuff nearly enough. It feels so natural to have to invent these sequences of words that I can’t imagine not doing it.

Certain phrases ring around in my head after I’ve finished a book. I can’t escape a famous quote – “Movie making is converting money into light, then back into money again”. I don’t know if it’s the rhythm of the words or it’s pace but it buzzes away in the back of my mind almost constantly.

I’m maybe getting stirrings of wanting to write something a little longer. I know, it’s something you’ve never seen before – someone with a blog who wants to write a novel? Can there be such a thing? I do actually have about 60,000 words of a thing, I should really return to it. I don’t even harbour any dreams of publishing, or selling it in any way; it’s just as a personal challenge. I’m not going to make any resolutions about it because then contrarian instinct kicks in. It’s just something in my mind and a little bit in my belly at the moment. Let’s forget I said anything.

I’m starting to get interested in using a few words as possible. If you strive for less then I think you arrive at something pretty good, and I think that it’s a great challenge to try and express what you want in less words. You may find it odd that I’ve expelled so many talking about so little but what am I if not a mass of contradictions? You’ll never reach the bottom of this bucket etc.

Five hundred words about how much I like using fewer words. Just what the world needs, isn’t it?

Ripe

Well, I now have a Zenit EM. I had an EM before, a commemorative one from the Moscow Olympics, which got pretty much destroyed in the year I spent travelling round China. I say “destroyed” – those old communist cameras never really get broken, the parts just start to go. The light meter on my old EM still works, it’s just the seals around the lens that’s starting to let in light. So I have a newer one now, a nice black one, and I’m suddenly seeing everything differently again. It’s funny just how differently you feel about and look at the world around you with a camera strapped onto your body, and how differently people perceive you when they look your way, half expecting you to snap a picture right in their ugly face or something. It’s exciting, and I’m going to spend some of my free time walking around with my camera, like a nutbar, just taking pictures.

I’m also trying to come up with another funny thing for Juice Comedy, or at least trying to keep a small hole in the corner of my mind to trap funnyish thoughts, to try and elaborate on them in the desperate hope that I could reap a few laughs from it. I have some really, really vague ideas that are slowly starting to convalesce into something more tangible but I’m not sure yet. I need to consume some more pop culture instead of reading The Eye of the World or listening to sludge. Find something to make fun of that people actually care about or have some awareness of. I want to try and write things that aren’t reviews, as much as I do enjoy writing them, and the free stuff I get is immense. But then maybe I could use the review format to do funny things? I suppose we shall see together.

I started writing things for things this week after three weeks or so of not writing or thinking about writing, and it’s not so bad. With my job I have quite a lot of free time when other people are doing other, more important things, so I have a lot of time to spend in front of a slightly damaged keyboard. Most gallingly, I’ve lost my comma key, so every comma is another moment spent pressing my stubby finger right into the centre of the weird plastic frame that holds the keys on. Take a look underneath one, now, but be careful; don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Now I’m commaless. I’m someone whose speech is rife with theatrical pauses, so the loss of my special punctuation friend is particularly hard for me. It also makes making a list incredible difficult, the resultant pressings akin to what I can only assume is cyber sex. That’s cyber sex, right?

My gradual shedding of posessions carries on in earnest. I halved my wardrobe last night (and the clothes too, HAHAHAHA) so if you want some pretty cool stuff, keep an eye on the charity shops in the area of the town in which I live. Townton is the name I have given it for the purposes of safety and security. Keep an eye on the windows of the charity shops of Townton, for they will be ripe with yearsworn bounty.

Books

We’ve been having a pretty big clear-out over the last day or two – I’ve halved by collection of books, and will no doubt get rid of most of them within the next month – not for any reason in particular, just to tidy up a bit. There was various cupboard problems, and the books had long been a metaphorical weight on my shoulders, making a few tidying sessions very necessary. The problem was that throughout university, I had accumulated so much crap, and old books, without ever thinking about the consequences that would arise from having it all. When I moved out, of course, the crap came with me. Even in a reasonably sized flat, it’s a sizeable pile of close to useless things.

Having so many books there, staring me right in the face, was also hindering my reading progress. The process of selecting a book to read next was torturous in itself, and with that many unread books you’d be very lucky to find one you actually want to read first-time, which meant for a lot of first chapter rejections, which does nothing for reading confidence – I’m somebody who needs to be in the proper rhythm to read, and it always feels like effort at first, to “get going”. It’s never come that easily for me, but I enjoy it so much that if the book is good, the effort is worth it. What this means is that I hate to waste my time on books I don’t really like – I recently had to review a book called Gangster Squad, which I didn’t really like at all, but I had to finish it. It was very difficult, and I almost gave up a few times, because it just felt like I was completely wasting my time. I finished it in the end though, then threw it in the fucking fire.

I’m also getting a Kindle pretty soon. I have evangelised in the past about the joys of the so-called printed word, and the smell of old yellowing books, which I do stand by; I just can’t help but think that the medium is dying, and that if I have an eReader, then I can carry my whole library with me at all times. That’s not to say I’ll never read a physical book again, far from it – it’ll just mean that I can streamline my collection until I arrive at a more manageable amount. It currently stands at one average sized bookcase, which I think I can probably trim down further. I’m actually excited to be able to have the collected works of Tolstoy (here), a writer whose entire life and body of work fascinates me, in the palm of my hand. I can’t wait. I also have designs on reading the rest of the Wheel of Time series, but I’m not even half-way through the first book yet, so I’ll hold fire.

I just got Dishonored, for the Playstation 3. It’s fantastic – it’s so clearly a Bethesda game, even if it wasn’t developed by them, in that there’s so many tiny details that bring the whole environment to life. Again, I’m not very far into it, but so far I’m very impressed and it would be impossible to put down, were it not physically impossible to pick up a game. Obviously I can pick up the disc, but it’s impossible to make a disc unputdownable without using glue.

The whole collected works of Tolstoy, in my actual hand. Exciting. We’re living in the future!