Not to be outdone by The Conjuring’s use of historical hauntings, British haunted house thriller The Banishing rips its subject from the history books. The Borley Rectory, upon which The Banishing loosely bases its story, is Britain’s Amityville Horror. With its large Gothic structure, Downton Abbey period setting, and stately British accents, The Banishing promises some classic haunted house horror. As an added bonus, director Christopher Smith has an impressive track record. His past directorial efforts include some hidden gems such as Triangle, Black Death, and Severance. After a limited UK theatrical release, Shudder is now streaming The Banishing for North American horror fans.
In 1930s England. Reverend Linus Forster, along with wife and daughter, settle into the Morley Rectory. After the mysterious disappearance of the previous pastor and his family, the Church has tasked Linus with restoring the townspeople’s faith. But no sooner than they’ve arrived and the Rectory’s secrets begin to creep out of the dark. Strange noises, bizarre images, and an entity intent on possessing their daughter push Forster and his wife, Marianne, to a breaking point. As the danger increases, the Forsters turn to a local occultist to save their daughter.
The Banishing Squanders Haunting Visuals With Glacial Pacing
In its opening scene, director Christopher Smith delivers an unsettling act of violence. Following the opening credits, The Banishing then quickly settles into an uneasy atmosphere. Smith and cinematographer Sarah Cunningham put their Gothic setting to good use. In spite of its familiar iconography, Cunningham stretches and tilts long hallways into looming figures. Moreover, Smith balances eccentric scenes with disturbing imagery the movie’s early-going. With its decent production quality and emphasis on atmosphere, The Banishing shows promise.
…early promise gives way to meandering pacing.
However, early promise gives way to meandering pacing. Instead of a slow burn The Banishing burns too slowly. That is, Smith forgets to to dial up the tension. As the movie drags in its middle act, Smith leaves audiences too much time to see through the subplots to what is a basic haunted house movie. Once you get past the period setting and British accents, The Banishing boasts all the familiar tropes. When David Beton et al’s screenplay introduces ambiguity to the narrative, The Banishing detours into more dissatisfying territory.
The Banishing Leaves Too Many Loose Threads
Maybe Smith was aiming for David Lynch-inspired surrealism. Regardless of his intent, The Banishing feels like it takes on too much for its own good. Too many of the story elements feel disconnected. Why does Smith insist on showing us a couple waltzing early in the movie? It can’t hep but feel like it’s there just for the sake of weirdness. True, its story of putting lost souls to rest has been done many times. But The Banishing overcomplicates things with subplots about Nazis and fascism and illegitimate children. None of these divergent elements come together in any satisfying way. In fact, The Banishing’s ending feels like a cheat.
None of these divergent elements comes together in any satisfying way.
Like its cinematography and production values, The Banishing’s performances are uniformly excellent. As the devout and sexually repressed Linus Forster, John Heffernan balances restraint with a sense of desperation. Though her character feels the most generic, Jessica Brown Findlay rises above the screenplay. Veteran character actors John Lynch (Boys From County Hell) and Sean Harris are the standouts. Specifically, Lynch’s ‘Bishop Malachi’ is quietly menacing. And Harris’ occultist Harry Reed mixes manic energy with an almost pitiful sadness.
The Banishing Fails To Translate Its Potential Into a Cohesive Movie
If The Banishing comes up short, it’s not for a lack of talent behind or in front of the camera. Everything about the movie looks good – from production values to cinematography to the performances. And there’s an interesting story teased in the movie. But The Banishing’s slow pacing and lack of a satisfying conclusion leave it as all build-up, no payoff. There’s a fine line between ambiguity and missing plot points. Unfortunately, Smith crosses the line, which leaves The Banishing feel undercooked.