Director Christopher Smith returns to horror to deliver the tense and unusual haunted house movie The Banishing.
The Banishing begins in a small English town in the 1930s, where a local priest is working away in his home one evening before being drawn to one of the bedrooms by a strange noise. Once there he’s confronted by an awful vision of himself killing his wife. When no one hears from the priest for a few days, Bishop Malachi (John Lynch) is called in, and discovers the priest and his wife dead. He orders the town doctor to cover this up, and then the house sits empty for three years.
We then get to meet Linus (John Heffernan), the new priest for the town, and his new wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay), along with her daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce). Linus has been sent there by Malachi to return the locals to the church. However, when Marianne and Adelaide begin to have strange visions inside the house, of odd things in the mirrors and ghostly monks, Marianne soon begins to suspect that something evil is happening inside her home and turns to a local occultist, Harry (Sean Harris) for help.
READ MORE: Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Film Review
From its very first scenes The Banishing seems to want to disturb its viewers, with the awful vision of a priest butchering his wife a striking image to open the film on. It’s so shocking that it took me a second to realise that the man was actually seeing himself do it, that the actor was in two places at once on screen. This feeling of unease, in making the viewer question what they’re seeing, is something that viewers will come to know quite well throughout the film, as events take on an almost dream-like quality at times.
This is one of the things that makes The Banishing so unnerving, that you’re often unsure at what you’re seeing, whether events are real, hallucinations, or premonitions. This is the chief way that the film tries to frighten you, with atmosphere, with a constant feeling of unease where you’re not sure whether or not you can trust what’s happening. Though, as my partner can attest, there are a couple of jump scare moments that could cause you to yell out loud whilst watching it (I’m not ashamed the film made me scream like a child).
Another thing that makes the film really strong is the casting, with the lead actors being really well suited to their roles. John Heffernan is great as Linus, a priest who seems constantly on edge, always nervous and unsure of himself, yet has an underlying anger within him. Heffernan is able to make him feel incredibly flawed, yet a little sympathetic too, and you can see why Marianne would love such a distant man despite his flaws. Marianne herself is played brilliantly by Jessica Brown Findlay, who instead of being a meek and subservient priest’s wife has a fire and passion to her. She’s outspoken and isn’t one to sugarcoat how she thinks and feels, and whilst she in some ways feels ahead of the time she lives in you kind of love her no nonsense attitude and willingness to get on and do what needs to be doing.
READ MORE: Stray – Documentary Review
The two best performances, however come from John Lynch and Sean Harris, whose characters seem to be constantly at war with each other. There’s a good sense of history between the two of them, and the scenes where they’re together are a particular highlight. But what’s best about them is how they kind of subvert expectations, and how you’re never quite sure what side they fall on. Bishop Malachi should be a ‘good guy’, someone on the side of the family, whilst you’d expect the occultist to be somewhat sinister, and the two of them are presented this way at first. However, as the film goes on the two shift and move around so much that it’s not clear which is the good guy and which is the villain until the very end of the film.
The Banishing tries to be a little different; it’s a film that’s adding its own spin on the normal haunted house story and trying out a new direction. It doesn’t always work, and perhaps a slightly longer run-time to flesh things out a bit more would have helped. But what it does do it does pretty well, and it’s got some creepy visuals, some good scares, and a damn fine cast, all of which adds up to a pretty good British horror film.
The Banishing is released on Digital Platforms on 26th March, and will stream on Shudder from 15th April.