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After a surprisingly effective hook that makes clear right away what we’re up against, we begin with a group of friends traveling into the forest. They are Emily (Margaret Judson) and her husband Jesse (Devin Goodsell) along with their best friends Woodrow (Mark Furze) and Michelle (Bobby T). Emily, after the loss of of her parents in a car accident, is the primary caretaker for Zach (Michael Johnston), her brother, confined to a wheelchair fighting spastic quadriplegia, a from of cerebral palsy, though she is sill struggling with how best to do so.
They arrive at their new home, basically a cabin in the woods, where the realtor (David Banks) excitedly informs them that the previous owner left in a hurry and so Emily and Jesse are taking ownership of the house “as-is.” Once settled though, personal issue arise of course as the stress of taking care of Zach cause tension while Michelle hides her new pregnancy. But when they discover strange markings on planks of wood in the house and over the windows Emily learns they are symbols of terrifying beings who exist in Hell. What they don’t know yet, is that the markings are warnings and the demons are real.
Written and directed by Alexander Babaev, Bornless Ones is as much a throwback to the classic horror films of Sam Raimi as it is its own brand of modern terror, mixing themes of possession and gore with tongue firmly in cheek. While it knows its influences well, and can’t quite sustain or reach the level of innovation these early film established, it does have a sense of joy to its gruesomeness, something many modern films in the genre lack. Babaev creates a strong sense of atmosphere but does best with his dialogue that is both sharp and funny, wisely keeping his players out of the joke while constantly looping us in. Generating some truly frightening images while propping up a number of old standbys, there’s a lot here that makes Bornless Ones much better than expected.
And it’s these expectations that Bornless Ones handles with surprising deftness. After its amusing start, things get serious fast as the demons awake and take to Zach first, whispering unseen in sinister voices and taking control of his body, promising to heal him. From there, they spread, turning the friends against each other (and themselves) as the bloody second half kicks in. It then takes a gleeful leap into the absurd as they descend into gory madness, with each facing their own demons from mistakes they’ve made in the past. And that’s just one clever twist that elevates this film above those looking only for an excuse to gut their cast.
While the cast is mostly good, with Furze and T making the most of it, it is Babaev’s obvious adoration and respect for the genre along with the genuinely compelling story that truly shift our perceptions. This isn’t just a dumb knockoff. This is smart, with an ending that feels earned and makes for a nice twist. Babaev introduces concepts of guilt and personal responsibility and doesn’t abandon his ideas, instead giving them weighty closure all under the guise of a cheesy 80s slasher film. Is it gory? Yes. Is it fun, that, too.
Bornless Ones is not going to reset the genre, nor will it have the impact that those that have influenced it had, but for new audiences that haven’t seen or even understand what those early films mean to horror fans, it will be a great place to start.
Movie description: Bornless Ones is a 2017 horror film about a group of friends in a cabin in the woods who come under the spell of an evil that turns them on each other.
Director(s): Alexander Babaev
Actor(s): Margaret Judson, Devin Goodsell, Michael Johnston
Genre: Horror, Thriller