Christopher ‘Creep’ Smith returns to classic horror roots in the haunted house movie ‘The Banishing’.
As haunted house movies go, this is a strong entry scoring favourably on all technical and characterisation fronts, perhaps suffering a little in the scares department, as it opts for a more traditional character driven approach a opposed to some of the bump-in-the-night tactics of its contemporaries.
Set in pre-war Britain (WW2 that is) the plot follows a morally strong vicar, his newly wedded wife and her illegitimate child. With the arrangement being something of a pity case on his part, the trio move to a new parish, furnished with a rather lavish manor house for which to live in. Initially, whilst things are a bit awkward there is a feeling of optimism about the arrangement, however, as with all spooky yarns it doesn’t take long before the houses sordid past interferes with the present.
Taking influence from the oft documented ‘Borley Rectory’ stories, the film, whilst fairly typical in its ghostly goings on, establishes itself within the crowded market with layered characters, interesting use of its wartime context and an extremely competent cast.
Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further. This is a very drama focussed horror film, and as such there is a bit of time investment required by the viewer before ‘The Banishing’ offers up some scares.
There is great emphasis on the film’s context, not just the parallels with the foreboding and inevitable conflict with fascism, but also the social isolation felt by the mother and her illegitimate child. There’s not only a feeling of unease, but a genuine feel of isolation, despite the films urban setting. Delve a little deeper and this same mentality could be applied to the nervous feeling attributed to our whole little island in the face of Europe’s fall to the Nazi war machine, deeper still, how about Brexit and broader political context in our current age?
This isn’t to say the film is pretentious, it doesn’t telegraph these things, I mention them to highlight that for ‘The Banishing’ to be effective, it needs you to believe in the characters, to let the horror come from their plight. Again, I reference here the strong cast, drawing from a range of high-profile British actors to deliver a story which is layered enough to allow for a little mystique and confusion, but typical enough for the film to stick firmly within genre boundaries.
The scares do ramp up, and although they are a little sparse in the films first half, ‘The Banishing’ is a horror film at heart – despite its flair for the period drama. There’s a lot on offer to make your hairs stand up, and enough effective jolts thrown in here and there to keep you on edge. Aside from the usual creepy dolls and ominous noises there are some really effective sequences involving some truly creative camera work, some outstanding sequences involving mirrors, as well as some reality altering ‘dreamlike’ sequences which really give the film a creative edge. The film does have an antagonist of sorts, although this is introduced quite late into the film’s exposition and runtime; again though, whilst perhaps not surpassing Hill’s ‘Woman in Black’ as Britain’s premier resident spook, it makes the impact it needs to, with a good grounding within the films overarching storyline.
Overall, whilst this review might seem brief, it’s not due to a lack of things to discuss, it’s just that to get the most out of discussing ‘The Banishing’, it really needs to have been viewed (and there aren’t any spoilers here!). Rest assured, if classic horror is your thing, and you are prepared to trade some scares for a greater depth of plot and character then ‘The Banishing’ is sure to sit well with you. Christopher Smith is a frequent hit for me with ‘The Banishing’ only sitting just below ‘Creep’ as a favourite from me.