As a rule, comedy is harder to achieve than drama, but drama always gets a higher regard among audiences and critics – acting awards tend to go towards the straight-faced roles than the ones that make you laugh. Which is why so many actors and actresses who are very funny people end up taking on “serious” roles: Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Will Ferrell, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell.
Some of them, you may not realise that they had even started in comedy: Emma Thompson was a featured player in many British sitcoms and movies before hooking up with that Irish ham Kenneth Branagh and Getting Serious (Oh, and if you’re ever interested in seeing her boobs, check out a 1989 comedy called THE TALL GUY, starring Emma, Jeff Goldblum and Rowan Atkinson. You know, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I’m not. I’m a decent guy).
Anyway, it can be jarring when you see someone, for whom comedy has been the fixture of them in your memory, in a dramatic role. For many British audiences, Scottish comic actor is best known for cult TV series like Absolutely and Stressed Eric, but I hadn’t seen much of him since those days, until he popped up in a found footage horror movie called FINAL PRAYER (aka THE BORDERLANDS), a feature début from British director Elliot Goldner.
Here, Kennedy plays Deacon, a hard-drinking Scottish priest called in by the Vatican to investigate some paranormal claims at a recently-reconsecrated 12th century church in rural Devon. Deacon is accompanied by his secular colleague Mark (Aidan McArdle, ME AND ORSON WELLES) and requisite technical guy Gray (Robin Hill, a frequent collaborator with filmmaker Ben Wheatley on such movies as KILL LIST), who fixes up all the expected cameras everywhere, and even makes Deacon and Mark wear them (don’t look down when you’re peeing, boys, that’s not the sort of Footage we want Found).
They have been brought in by the local priest, Father Crellick (Luke Neal, JUPITER ASCENDING), who believes that the ground beneath the church contains a malevolent spirit, one which has been awakened by the return of Christian activity to the reopened church. Which isn’t surprising, given how gloomy the whole village looks, with the fog ever present in the background, and the pub looking as welcoming as my father after I came home with my ear pierced.
The trio of newcomers remain sceptical, however, having seen more than their fair share of fakes (especially given that attendance has increased since the paranormal incidents have been reported), and they begin the search for evidence of trickery for the things falling off walls and the screams and other noises heard. However, the trio are beginning to explain it all away as normal happenings (and a terrible act of animal cruelty from some of the local youths), when Father Crellick decides to stage dive off the top of the church tower. After this, they discover a network of tunnels beneath the church, dug by the pagan forebearers on the site, they call in an exorcist, and then all Hell, as they say, breaks loose…
I’m not gonna say that FINAL PRAYER is original, because it’s not; you’ll have tasted all the ingredients before in dozens of other movies. What it does have is a decent setting (evoking the rural beauty and dread from many a Hammer Horror film of the past) and location for the paranormal shenanigans (I can’t recall one of these movies being set in a church before).
There’s also the main trio of investigators, who rise above the typical anonymous and annoying 20- or 30-somethings we usually see in these films, and possess some acting chops as well as believability and chemistry between them. Kennedy in particular surprised me, offering a subtle, conflicted performance, reminiscent of Oliver Reed before he became a drunken parody of himself. It’s also a nice inversion that the Church representatives are the sceptics, while the agnostic, joking cameraman Gray is the one more willing to believe in what is going on. The script is also intelligent, offering a lot more than the usual “Did you hear that?” and “Oh my God what made that noise?” by having the characters talk about faith and scepticism.
Of course, it still gives you the requisite jump scares, loud noises, jumping video edits and half-glimpsed images, while building up to the expected ending (though to be fair it was very effectively done, and will be a nightmare for claustrophobes). I wouldn’t ask you to go out and buy it, but if you’re looking for something to watch that isn’t crap, you could do worse.
FINAL PRAYER aka THE BORDERLANDS is available now on DVD and VOD, and the trailer is below.
Director: Elliot Goldner
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Found Footage on his roof- no wait, it was a football…