This year, micro-budget British horror film The Borderlands made a real splash in cinemas. Despite its limited release, the dark, atmospheric tale of two priests and an agnostic techie sent to investigate paranormal goings-on in a church really affected audiences. The found footage premise sounds like it could have been copied and pasted from hundreds of identical movies, but The Borderlands works because of some excellently crafted scares.
As well as audiences, the film impressed critics. Noted horror junkie Mark Kermode said in a video blog that he even considered leaving the cinema because the film had so successfully got under his skin.
Jennifer Handorf, previously best known for her executive producer credit on The Devil’s Business, produced The Borderlands and spoke to The Popcorn Muncher about the state of British horror films in 2014.
What drew you to The Borderlands?
I came to The Borderlands because of my relationship with Metrodome Distribution. They had distributed my previous film, The Devil’s Business, and we’d been talking about other projects in the meantime. They had been developing the idea for their first feature as a production company, which would become The Borderlands.
Basically, they asked me if I’d be up for it, and I said yes. It sounded like an adventure and I really like working with them, so it was kind of a no-brainer.
Are you disappointed at the limited releases British horror films receive?
Yes, but I think that’s true for all producers, regardless of genre or locality. It’s hard to see a film you spent months and years of your life working on flicker in and out of the spotlight so quickly, but that’s also the nature of the beast.
I think the disconnect comes between the distributors and the audience, though. With media changing so quickly and DVD value plummeting, I think distributors aren’t quite sure what to do to get audiences to engage without risking a great deal of money in print and advertising costs. Films that break out are breaking out for no identifiable reason. If you could bottle it, there would be more indie films following that scenario.
But, until distributors can find a way of cheaply disseminating their films to a wide market or targeting a low budget launch more precisely, audiences are still going to have to search the back shelves for those little indie gems. Or they could buy it online – but that’s less romantic somehow.
Do you think horror cinema in general is in good shape or would you agree with those who say that the genre’s golden age has well and truly passed?
I think this is another “good ole days” myth. I believe there are just as many good horror films out there as any other decade. There has always been a great deal of really awful horror films out there, with a few gems scattered in amongst them. We just tend to forget about the dozens and dozens of rubbish films whilst the Suspirias and Dawn of the Deads stay emblazoned on our memories.
What has happened, though, is that, with the “prosumer” revolution [that let anyone] make a movie, there is just a lot more product out there generally, and most of it is terrible. So, whilst there still might be two or three dozen genuinely great horror films every year, they are hidden amongst several thousand not very good films, whereas previously there might have only been a few hundred or so.
| “There has always been a great deal of really awful horror films out there…”
This affects the market as well. It’s much harder to get noticed generally, by audiences and distributors alike, and I think that has affected the genre, forcing filmmakers to try and come up with something that will stand out in a crowd. Sometimes this is great and you end up with really original material. Other times, you see filmmakers getting bogged down into making sure their film is the goriest, most disgusting, product on the rack, which I think can be detrimental to good storytelling.
Is there still room left for innovation in the found footage genre despite its ubiquity?
Always. It just needs someone to come in who has something new to say about it.
Does the horror genre thrive or struggle when it’s free of the influence of big Hollywood studios?
I’m not sure there is a definitive line. I’ve seen indie films that could have done with some studio influence to keep them on track, just as I’ve seen studio films that should have been allowed to breathe more.
I think really what makes a film struggle is whether or not the creative energy driving it is trying to tell a story or sell a product. Films that have heart tend to have come from a desire to tell a story and connect with an audience. That’s what I like to see from a film anyway.
Films that are made by committee to chase a trend or fill a void in the market don’t tend to have the same spark. But that applies to both indies and studio films.
Do you think that mainstream audiences want to see a horror film like The Borderlands that relies upon chills over cheap jump scares?
I hope so!
I think jumps scares are like cotton candy: nice in the moment, but they don’t stay with you. If you can build tension and mood that can sustain a sense of dread over the duration of a film, then you’ve really managed to affect your audience.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just wrapped production on Native, which is a sci-fi thriller starring Rupert Graves and Ellie Kendrick, and I have The Forgotten premiering in Leicester Square at FrightFest this August.
The Forgotten was actually made in between The Devil’s Business and The Borderlands, so it’s a bit of a retrospective project for me. I’m very excited to see how the audience reacts to it.
Thank you, Jennifer!
The Borderlands is available on DVD now.