In 1930’s England, a reverend, his wife, and her daughter move into a manor. What at first seems like an extravagant new home quickly becomes a house of horrors as the truth of the manor’s past comes to light.
Christopher Smith (Triangle, Severance) helms this supernatural thriller written by David Beton (The Hatton Garden Job), Ray Bogdanovich (The Hatton Garden Job), and Dean Lines (The Hatton Garden Job). Based on the true story of one of the most haunted houses in England, The Banishing follows a family as they take up residence in an old manor. The family consists of a reverend, his new bride, and her daughter born of another man out of wedlock. Moving to this manor is meant to be a fresh start for the new family and a chance for the reverend to bring back the flock after the previous reverend left three years prior. Unfortunately, the dark history of this place infects the family, feeding on their secrets and insecurities.
The film is an eerie, supernatural mystery with multiple layers, something Smith is known for with his previous films. Throughout The Banishing, the supernatural forces at work in the manor bleed the past and the present together. At first this can be confusing, but over time the pieces come together in a way that is compelling and logical. There is also a feminist edge to much of the plot as the film focuses on the wife. Despite her marriage to a reverend and the era in which this film takes place, this woman is complex, thoughtful, strong-willed, and forward-thinking. The way her personal story ties in with the history of the manor makes the film that much more interesting.
As previously mentioned, the plot at times can be a bit confusing until those puzzle pieces fall into place. Yet there is one puzzle piece that never quite finds its home. From the opening scene in The Banishing, it is established that the bishop knows something about the history of the manor, even though he places the new reverend and his family there. By the time the film ends there is one question that remains, why? The audience learns a bit about why this man allowed the family to move to the manor knowing it was dangerous, but there is still a sizable hole that is sure to leave many viewers wanting the answer.
The Banishing boasts many wonderful performances. Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey, Harlots) plays Marianne. Findlay has proved time and time again that she is a talented actor, especially when it comes to period pieces. Her performance in The Banishing is no different. She makes this complicated character endearing and especially shines in the moments when Marianne feels as though she’s losing her mind. Another great performance comes from Sean Harris (Possum, Mission Impossible: Fallout) as Harry Price. Harry is an occultist hoping to help the young family survive the horror inside the manor. Harris really shines when he gets to play somewhat eccentric characters and this shows through with his portrayal of Harry. Other performance nods go to John Heffernan (Eye in the Sky) and Anya McKenna-Bruce (Sense8).
For the most part, The Banishing is an unsettling, slow-burn type of film. Yet there are increasingly disturbing scenes shown throughout the film that really ramp up the fear. Some of these scenes have more simple, subtle scares such as something moving in a mirror in a way that shouldn’t. Other times we see two of the same person, making the character as well as the audience unsure of what is real and what is imagined. Then there are the sinister beings that lurk in the manor. Sometimes depicted as dolls, sometimes all too real, the design for the ghosts that haunt this home is truly horrifying at times. This is especially true for the one female ghost, who is not only scary in doll form, but she is downright terrifying when glimpses of her full-bodied form appear in the darkness. Some of the images are sure to stick with audience members when they are alone in the dark.
The Banishing is a haunting mystery rooted in a family drama. Smith once again tackles a complex plot and delivers it to audiences in a digestible way. That being said, there is a rather sizeable plot hole that leaves big questions unanswered. Luckily, there is still a lot to enjoy from the plot. I personally always love a film that positions the patriarchy and religion as the true villains, and The Banishing definitely fits that bill. On top of that, the performances are quite strong and the imagery is disturbing. Whether you enjoy ghost stories, period pieces, or mysteries, The Banishing has a little something for everyone.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10