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  Banishing, The Baffling Borley
Year: 2020
Director: Christopher Smith
Stars: Jessica Brown Findlay, John Lynch, Sean Harris, John Heffernan, Adam Hugill, Jason Thorpe, Anya McKenna-Bruce, James Swanton, Cokey Falkow, Seamus O'Neill, Sara Apostolaki, Danny Shayler, Nigel Travis, Amy Trigg, Jean St Clair, Matthew Clarke
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the mid-nineteen-thirties, and in England's Borley Rectory the new vicar, Linus (John Heffernan) is trying to arrange a new congregation for the church, but first has to welcome his wife, Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and young daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) to their new home. There have been rumours about the building brewing for some time, some saying that it is haunted, yet nothing has been proven - not that this will daunt the paranormal investigator Harry Price (Sean Harris) who has arrived in the village with one thing on his mind, to uncover the secrets of the rectory once and for all. But some would prefer those secrets buried...

Borley Rectory was a real place, long gone now after a fire at the end of the thirties, just as the Second World War was commencing, but in its day it was a distraction to the very real evils blighting the globe as the exploits of Harry Price, who was also real, were reported widely and caught the public imagination in much the same manner as the Loch Ness Monster had earlier that decade. There was something in the air in those years, some would say the scent of bullshit, but Price managed to convince quite a few people that he had discovered a presence - more than one, in fact - spookily stalking the grounds and corridors of the draughty old building.

Quite why director Christopher Smith decided to depict Price as an absolute madman in this film, one of a number about the rectory released around eighty to ninety years after its heyday in the annals of the supernatural, is a question that went unanswered here, but was an illustration of how he and his creative team were unable to find the correct tone. If anything, Price, a relentless self-publicist, was the respectable face of ghost hunting, though his reputation took a dent, not to mention a dive, when he was accused with plenty of justification of inventing and even staging almost all of the Borley hauntings to give himself an income, though he had help in that.

The real Marianne was extremely cagey after the furore had died down, and was wont to sue anyone who linked her name to the happenings, somewhat hampered by the famous writing on the wall of the house, supposedly from a ghost, that mentioned her by name, and forever linked her to the mystery, if mystery it was. It's certainly accurate to say whether Price was making stuff up or not, he had quite the imagination for unnerving notions and that fed into the Borley myth, so precisely why we needed, among other fanciful business, a Nazi conspiracy with the Catholic Church at its heart as the main impetus for the haunting, as seen in this, was an even bigger mystery that what Price had stayed up at night scribbling away to create his greatest work of probable fiction.

In places Smith appeared to be trying to emulate the success of his most famous film, Triangle, by applying time and mind-bending ideas as Marianne suffers her long, dark night of the soul within the rectory's ever-expanding and contracting spaces, and we were given a variant on the abused nun tale that was part of Price's claims. Yet most of this simply wasn't authentic to the yarns that sprang up around the so-called Most Haunted House in England, and after a fashion it was, alas, the equivalent of the inventions (read: lies) of The Conjuring series, except Smith's film had a real grudge against the Church and religion in general, which the pious American movies would not have been happy with at all. With an insistence on near-constant playing of tricks on the audience, what could have been a sinister mischief ended up oddly, disappointingly, tiresome, with scattered stronger elements but in the main it was difficult to care. Music by Toydrum.

Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Christopher Smith  (1970 - )

British writer and director with a penchant for the macabre. After making short films at film school, it was seven years before his first feature was released, the London Underground-set chiller Creep. He followed it with well-received comedy horror Severance and shipboard puzzle Triangle, then the medieval horror quest Black Death. As a change of pace, he next directed his own spin on Christmas, family fantasy Get Santa, and was also responsible for one of the Borley Rectory horrors, The Banishing.

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