The Banishing “tells the true story of the most haunted house in England”. That would be Borley Rectory, made famous by Harry Price’s now debunked photo of a levitating brick. Price himself is a character in the film, although that’s about as close to the actual history of the building as the film gets. It even renames the building Morely for some reason. I’m more concerned about whether it’s a good story than if it’s a true one anyway.
Director Christopher Smith (Severance, Triangle) and writers David Beton (Tower Block), along with Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines who had worked with Beton on The Hatton Garden Job get The Banishing off to a good start. A clergyman kills his wife before hanging himself. Upon seeing the scene of the crime Bishop Malachi (John Lynch, Boys from County Hell, Hybrid) orders it covered up.
Three years later, in 1938, Linus (John Heffernan, Eye in the Sky, The Loch) is the rectory’s new occupant. A former missionary he’s been tasked with getting the locals back in the pews, and money back in the collection plate. Joining him are his wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay, Victor Frankenstein, Castlevania) and her daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce, Sense8).
Almost immediately they’re hearing strange noises and Adelaide has found several strange dolls and some friends nobody else can see. Harry Price (Sean Harris, Possum, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) knows there’s something unholy in the rectory, but Linus won’t listen to him. Until he has no other choice.
Unfortunately, after such a fast start, The Banishing wanders off course in the first act. There’s more attention paid to the rise of fascism in Europe and church politics than scares. The marital problems between Linus and Marianne are obvious, but we’re only given hints as to their origins.
We do get some creepy dolls and reflections with minds of their own but it’s all fairly low key until Adelaide starts acting oddly. She insists Marianne isn’t her mother and talks about a secret room. For her part Marianne starts hallucinating, seeing ghostly monks and dead bodies.
But the most sinister thing in the film is Bishop Malachi who looks like he stepped out of Witchfinder General, with morals not far removed from Matthew Hopkins. From covering up murders to threatening to have Price arrested on trumped up charges and his alleged connections to the Nazis.
After an hour of this The Banishing goes from being a psychological horror along the lines of The Shining and adds elements of Poltergeist, only with a mirror instead of a television set. It’s at this point that the film finally starts delivering some scares as well. It also gets a bit confusing as The Banishing tries to fit about forty five minutes worth of plot into thirty. At one point it felt like this was going to be a variation on Triangle’s time loop as we see multiple versions of Marianne seemingly co-existing. But then it goes in another direction leaving what was going on unexplained.
The Banishing does get the look of the period right. Marianne seems a bit outspoken for a woman in the 1930s, though a comment about her “artist friends” indicates that may be due to a more Bohemian, less traditional past.
The result is a film that’s interesting, if a bit slow for the most part, before racing to a conclusion that’s equal parts obvious and confusing. Smith handled the intersection of the church and the supernatural much better in Black Death. I was hoping The Banishing would be more like that, but maybe ten years away from the genre has dulled his instincts.
The Banishing will debut on Shudder in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on April 15th.