Director: Elliot Goldner
Writer: Elliot Goldner
Producer: Jen Handorf
Stars: Gordon Kennedy, Aidan McArdle, Rob Hill, Luke Neal, Patrick Godfrey
A Vatican investigation into a purported miracle at a remote countryside church uncovers a disturbing occult connection.
Peg “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999 as the birthing point of the subgenre’s modern popularity boom, and 2015 marks the year that “found footage” would be old enough to drive a car. That’s a lot of years spent spelunking in abandoned asylums and haunted woods by intrepid amateur documentarians and urban legend enthusiasts sporting GoPros and cellphone cameras. It is to the point where anyone expressing unilateral disdain for the format ought to know better than to watch one more “found footage” film in the first place instead of griping about it afterwards.
2015 also marks the long awaited by some United States release of the UK thriller “The Borderlands” under its new name of “Final Prayer.” Interestingly, the copyright notice seemingly cites the film as “Devil Lies Beneath,” which would have been a title superior to the other two in spite of being a touch of a spoiler. Destined to be deigned “yet another” first-person horror film by the grumpy bunch alluded to above, “Final Prayer” nevertheless has the ability to instill eerie chills into anyone still susceptible to the unique appeal of “found footage,” even if the movie grabs from a familiar bag of tricks to do so.
As an investigative trio on assignment from the Vatican, a priest, a tech specialist, and a grizzled skeptic make their way to a centuries-old stone church in the remote English countryside to see if they can’t debunk claims of a purported miracle that recently took place. Once bells start clanging mysteriously, sheep combust spontaneously, and a local pastor commits suicide, the investigators quickly learn that they may not be dealing with an elaborate prank after all, let alone a miracle. For deep beneath the church’s dank underground passageways lurks a sinister evil connecting the site to a horrific history perhaps better left undisturbed.
“Final Prayer” is heavier on character development than the average “found footage” thriller. Act One commences with the usual “getting to know you” stage as Gray the somewhat slovenly AV nerd and Deacon the keeps-to-himself journeyman find themselves reluctant roommates with diametrically opposed belief systems and work ethics. With the third point of their triad not arriving until the 20-minute mark, the film limits itself to these two main men for a period of time rolling on past having firmly established who they are. It’s clear from their initial interaction that Gray equals Oscar Madison and Deacon fills in for Felix Unger, but “Final Prayer” piles up the exposition to hammer home with a railroad spike that Gray is a popcorn-munching casual bloke while Deacon is the jaded veteran self-medicating with a wine bottle. The ramp-up inclines so gradually that it can dial down early interest in the plot for those itching to shoot straight to the ghostly goods.
However, those who don’t mind Deacon and Gray’s extended company find the pair’s relationship becoming the film’s fulcrum. What starts as tense tolerance turns to respectful friendship with actors Rob Hill and Gordon Kennedy mixing their intentionally scripted annoying traits with affable improvised interactions to craft intriguing personalities anchoring the story. In short, Gray and Deacon are typical archetypes on predictable paths of paranormal discoveries challenging their mindsets, but quality performances keep the characters captivating as supernatural stakes continue rising.
“Final Prayer” relies overmuch on conventional jump jolts even when its textures of religious-themed horror more competently develop cerebral scares. Fakeout frights include a prankster popping for an unexpected boo, a beer can kicked in the darkness, and a surprise visit from a wayward hound. While well-timed and well-placed when the slow-to-gestate atmosphere barks for another kickstart, such cheap thrills feel beneath a movie with more on hand than textbook terror techniques. Although once you’ve had your fill of baby-wailing echoes and fiery farm animals, “Final Prayer” clears a path for its meatier entrée of occult mythology leading towards a claustrophobic finale nipping right at the heels of “The Descent.”
By now, any experienced horror hound knows enough about his/her personal tastes to tell straight away if a “found footage” ghost hunt set in a creepy rural church falls within an individual wheelhouse. As a general score, “Final Prayer” nets in a neighborhood just shy of three stars out of four. God-fearing types who prefer a tinge of religious-related fear coloring their filmic frights can add at least one-half to that rating while anyone “sick of found footage” can subtract a full star or more. Far from a game-changer, yet much further still from a failure, “Final Prayer” surpasses the bulk of its “found footage” brethren with enough murky moodiness and devilish darkness to make itself memorable.
Review Score: 70