★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
The Banishing serves up several haunted house tropes, but it looks good while doing so, with solid performances and conspiracy angles.
Directed by Christopher Smith
Director Christopher Smith returns to the horror genre after a decade-long absence, during which he worked on other projects, with the U.K. feature The Banishing. Set in what was reputed to be England’s most haunted building, Borley Rectory — changed here to Morley Rectory — during the 1930s, the film is ambitious in its aims and rich with dread atmosphere.
After covering up the respective suicide and murder of a vicar and his wife in Morley Rectory, Bishop Malachi (John Lynch) taps former missionary Linus (John Heffernan) as the new vicar. Linus’s wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her young daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) join him there, but Linus abstains from sex with Marianne, just one of the several cracks in their marriage. Adelaide begins to have an imaginary friend which eventually she starts considering her real mother and plays with dolls that look like ancient monks, and that’s only the beginning of the supernatural troubles that befall the family.
A local pagan and political instigator named Harry Price (Sean Harris), who is also at odds with Malachi, gets Marainne’s ear about how the rectory is an evil place and that she and Adelaide must leave right away. Political trouble is in the air with Adolf Hitler becoming a more powerful figure and a possible threat to England, and a long-standing secret behind the rectory is revealed, as if things weren’t bad enough for the family already.
The screenplay by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines introduces the political angle but doesn’t play it for its full potential. The history with the monks is explored a bit more, but feels like it could be realized even further.
Smith (Severance , Triangle , Black Death ) is a deft hand at the helm, and knows how to create a stifling, claustrophobic, creepy atmosphere. He gets terrific assists from his cast, particularly Findlay as a strong-minded, independent thinking woman and Harris, whose portrayal of a bohemian provocateur is mesmerizing.
The Banishing has its share of creepy dolls, eerie mirrors, and otherworldly elements, so much of the film’s fear-fare elements has been seen before. There are enough good ingredients in the mix to make it a psychological horror worth watching, though.
The Banishing comes to Shudder in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on April 15th.