GORE IN THE STORE
THE BANISHING ****
Directed by Christopher Smith.
Starring Jessica Findlay Brown, John Lynch, Sean Harris.
Horror, UK, 97 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2
Director Christopher Smith makes his long overdue return to horror with THE BANISHING an effective tale of a haunted house that contains a number of familiar, yet distinct, trademarks that will no doubt be familiar to his fans. By applying these touches to a haunted house story, namely the infamous Morley Rectory that was home to many spectral sightings in the early twentieth century, Smith proves himself as one of British genre cinemas most underrated talents with a diverse and strong body of work.
In using Morley Rectory as a staging ground Smith has tapped into the current onscreen zeitgeist for haunted houses, made fashionable and profitable again due to the Hauntings of Hill House and Bly Manor and the continuing Conjuring franchise and its numerous spin offs. Set during the Second World War, the large estate becomes home to Reverend Linus, his wife Marianne and their daughter Adelaide. Barely settled into their new, vast home each member soon begins to experience unnerving episodes that rapidly increase with each occurrence. Linus soon begins to exhibit jealous and angry tendencies that were similar to the previous tenant, who we witness committing a very bloody act at the films opening, and Marianne seems to be stalked by a familiar figure from some unspecified point in her past or future. To cap it all off Adelaide appears to have grown rather attached to the trio of spooky robed dolls that appeared to be waiting for her in her new bedroom.
Sinister figures are also appearing in plain sight, each with their own agendas for the family. Bishop Malachi and the spiritual investigator Harry Price, played by Sean Harris sporting a sinister wavy ginger hair do, have their own reasons for their vested interests in the family and the house. What follows is perfect viewing for a wintry night, especially for those who have fond memories of the BBC ghost stories of the 1970’s. Smith nicely marks out the gothic atmosphere that such a story requires and grounds it with convincing period detail whilst he also manages to gain nicely judged performances from a very strong cast.
Jessica Findlay Brown makes for an appealing heroine whose character highlights the unfair attitudes that women had to put up with, particularly in regards to “scandalous” behaviour that back then would have her committed, yet today would not even raise an eyebrow. John Heffernan as her repressed husband seethes along nicely as his behaviour threatens to slip over into monstrousness. Sean Harris, reuniting here with Smith after 2006’s CREEP, effortlessly upstages and unnerves everyone else even in a more heroic role than we are used to seeing him in.
Despite being Smith’s lowest budgeted film yet he still manages to pack a lot into it, maybe a bit too much. A side story hinting at Bishop Malachi’s ties to the Nazi party is seriously underdeveloped and when brought onscreen it is to puzzling effect. Whilst a tad light on scares, especially when compared to the aforementioned TV shows and films above it still manages to deliver a generous number of visual and imaginative shocks to accompany its dread filled atmosphere. The issues of sexual jealousy, repression and madness go hand in glove here with the time hopping that Smith used so effectively in his own TRIANGLE and his fans may be please to see that there are even hints of the folk horror that he employed in BLACK DEATH. It is a welcome return to see Smith flex these storytelling skills after so long. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another near decade to see him do so again.