FILM REVIEW: The Banishing (2020) – Embrace the Tale, Exorcise the Execution

The Banishing Plot

From acclaimed genre director Chris Smith (Creep, Severance, Triangle) comes this story based loosely off of real-life events at the Borley Rectory, known to this day as “the most haunted house in England.” Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster (John Heffernan) his wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) move into the manor for a fresh start only to be met with increasingly frightening and violent events. The hauntings force the already strained family to confront their own beliefs and fight for one another.

The unease in the family is introduced immediately, as the vicar’s feelings towards his new bride are complicated. The movie version of Marianne had a child out of wedlock, which polarizes the reputation of the devout vicar. Is he a saint for taking on this spiritually lost bride and her bastard child, or sinner for being involved?

He struggles openly with this, behaving in an uncaring and sometimes cruel manner towards Marianne, while being strict on Adelaide. The tension provides fertile soil for horror to grow. The vicar has a lot riding on this posting in the community and isn’t about to let his nervous bride, pesky child and their ghostly fantasies interfere.

The Banishing 2020 Horror Movie Shudder
Anya McKenna-Bruce as Adelaide, Sean Harris as Harry Price, John Heffernan as Linus, Jessica Brown Findlay as Marianne – The Banishing – Photo Credit: Shudder

Embrace The Banishing

The actual history of the Borley Rectory dishy and rich, ripe source material for a film. The filmmakers chose this particular chapter in the house’s “haunted” past probably because there were so many elements of interest: Fascism, misogyny, pre-war anxiety, children born out of wedlock, religious feverous and documented alleged hauntings. All the type of stuff ripe to be plucked for a great horror movie ride.

Jessica Brown Findlay, notable for her role as Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey (another doomed yet strong female character in a period piece) is excellent in The Banishing. Indeed, the entire cast gives good performances for the material they have to work with. Director Chris Smith doesn’t disappoint in the tone of this film. Costume designs are gorgeous, music is as robust as we expect, and the portrayal of the house is welcome eye candy to the horror genre enthusiast.

The Banishing 2020 Horror Movie Shudder
Anya McKenna-Bruce as Adelaide – The Banishing – Photo Credit: Shudder

Exorcise The Banishing

With so much setup to go well, unfortunately this film falls short. There is too much going on with the aforementioned deeper themes, of which there are many, and the 90 minute run time doesn’t tie it together. Instead, the audience is left grasping a number of interesting straws that lead to a knotted ball of mess unworthy of untangling.

It’s like the film team threw a bunch of ideas at a wall – Haunted house, creepy kid, troubled marriage, Hitler on the rise, threat of fascism, misogyny, religious persecution, confusing nightmares, ghosts, haunted mirrors, community scrutiny, trust issues, etc. – but didn’t care if any of them stuck.

The film is slow in addition to this sloppiness. While I appreciate an atmospheric build to a great haunted house payoff, what we have here is a “try and stay awake” first hour followed by a “WTF is happening?” final act. Not a good look. “Scares” delivered here are either cheap jump scares or rip-offs of moments like the famous “Hide and Clap” scene from The Conjuring. Neither new nor executed in any exciting manner.

The Banishing Conclusion

The real Borley Rectory deserves better, and this story was prime to elevate the source material. Unfortunately, the cast, crew and audience also deserve much more than this effort.


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