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When it comes to haunted houses we’ve seen it all near enough. From the psychology of Robert Wise’s The Haunting, to the playful macabre of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, to the shuddering realism of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, the jolts of James Wan’s The Conjuring, the fresh voice of Remi Weekes’ His House, and the ice cube down the spine chills and lingering emotions of J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage. We have seen so many filmmakers craft so many different bumps in the night emanating from the home, and in Creep and Black Death director Christopher Smith’s The Banishing, we go back to the traditional British hauntings of old, which have recently been resurrected in films like The Woman in Black, When the Lights Went Out and An English Haunting.
This Yorkshire shot ‘30s set haunted house chiller, inspired by “The most haunted house in England”, sees young reverend Linus (John Heffernan), his wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) move in to a manor, but this building contain’s a dark past that refuses to be forgotten.
What The Banishing lacks in surprise it more than makes up for in atmosphere and performance. Filmed in Skipton, North Yorkshire (at landmarks like Broughton Hall Estate and the Skipton Plaza Cinema), Sarah Cunningham’s cinematography is impressive and simply oozes mood. The greyish, foggy picture evoking a sense of dread and uncertainty from the earliest possible point. This is aided by an equally ambience-filled score by Toydrum, which works hand in hand with the already well constructed vintage yet oppressive feel of the film and story, from screenwriters David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines.
It is no mistake that the fascism of Nazi Germany and horror of WW2 plays a part in being a backdrop to this tale of loss, misplaced righteousness and sin. Indeed a final sub-plot involving Nazi occultism does feel like it could be developed more but the vibe is there dripping throughout this methodical picture. Yet, despite its effective throwback formula, Smith brings some intriguing and devilish technique to the table of this classic ghost story, reflective of his time-bending narrative twists and detours in his vastly underrated looping seafaring horror Triangle. The Banishing takes its time to build up the dread and the mistrust, which may lose some along the way but pays off in unleashing an even more historic feeling film, with some traditional tropes (creepy dolls, winding stone basements, hidden secrets) being delivered and embraced.
A roundly well acted piece, The Banishing benefits most from lead Jessica Brown Findlay as a mother torn apart by the mounting visions and a cruel reality that hits home, while Sean Harris offers great support as the eccentric occultist Harry Reed, complete with Burtonesque eccentric hair and costume. While John Lynch is rather fearsome in his supporting turn as an authoritative and potentially unscrupulous religious figure in Malachi.
Unapologetically slow building but with a few jolts and old school joys up its sleeve, The Banishing is well worth inviting in to your home.
The film hits Shudder on the 26th March here in the UK.
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