Christopher Smith is one of the most talented filmmakers in modern British horror. With his terrifying debut Creep back in 2004, he delivered a harrowing nightmare of a young woman being stalked by a creature in the London Underground. His follow-ups Severance and Triangle were also great, as he dabbled in comic horror and psychological thrills respectively. Yes, Smith was a filmmaker to watch. But unfortunately, his more recent films have shown something of a decline –more evident than ever in his latest based on the infamous Borley Rectory tale.
The Banishing’s press notes describe it as “The Shining meets Downton Abbey”, and there is some truth in that. Set in a 1930s England manor, this psychological slow burn offers a gradual decline into madness rather than chucking the viewer into the deep end of cinematic horror as some of Smith’s earlier films have done, while Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton fame certainly lends a very period aesthetic to proceedings. But unfortunately, the film loses its way several times and, each time, struggles to get back on track.
The Banishing features all the hallmarks of the genre – ghostly voices, dark figures, and creepy dolls galore – but a sluggish pace fails to do justice to the film’s frightening potential. Momentum is lost between the brief sequences of genuine horror, giving the viewer too much time to relax when the dread and atmosphere should be ever-building. The film’s aesthetic often looks cheap, while performances are underwhelming across the board. Even the ever-reliable Sean Harris phones it in as ghost hunter Harry Price, which eliminates one of the film’s few saving graces. At the core of the film, there is simply nothing remotely interesting happening to give it any sort of identity in the packed subgenre. All the clichés are present and correct, the twists and turns are predictable…the whole thing feels painfully familiar.
The Banishing isn’t a complete disaster. There are some effective little scares to be had and there is a certain charm in its very traditional delivery – the ghost of Henry James is certainly felt in the slow, understated and haunting tale. But when all is said and done, it is the film’s pacing and reluctance to remain on its narrative tracks that mean the final product feels messy, and ultimately, not very scary. The best horrors build momentum between the scares so that by the climax, you are breathlessly clinging to the edge of your seat in terror. The Banishing will see you slumped as far back in your seat as you can get, desperately trying not to fall asleep as it reaches its final scenes.
The Banishing is a messy and bland haunted house that does nothing to stand out in its crowded subgenre.
THE BANISHING will be released on digital platforms March 26th 2021 courtesy of Vertigo Releasing