FrightFest 2020: The Banishing review – a fun haunted house movie

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The Banishing finds British horror stalwart Chris Smith returning to the genre with some spooky business – here’s our review.

The Banishing finds recently married Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and vicar Linus (John Heffernen) attempting to settle into life together. Their union is a controversial one, with Marianne’s past and daughter from a previous relationship a source of concern within the church.

Of greater concern, though, is that the looming, gloomy house she and daughter Adelaide move into looks like it should be extremely haunted. It is. With a tense, uncomfortable marriage struggling to generate warmth, an increasingly strained relationship with her disturbed daughter and a home that looks like there are ghouls in every nook and cranny, Marianne must seek solace and answers.

There’s obviously a lot to be said for originality in horror movies, but that doesn’t mean that a competent and creepy reapplication of tried and tested tropes is without its charm. The Banishing finds director Chris Smith employing tension and atmosphere and leaning on his brilliant cast to create a fun, if forgettable, horror.

It’s certainly taken influence from a particular recent horror trend, but then The Conjuring and its assorted spin-offs and sequels hardly invented the haunted house movie to begin with. And while you can definitely see James Wan’s highly effective horrors hold over The Banishing at times, Smith’s film is more than just an imitation.

For a start, the World War II setting allows for an exploration of fascism, our responses to it and the responsibility of institutions and religion towards society.

The strained and difficult character relationships are a great source of tension. The airless, silent awkwardness between Marianne and Linus is used to good effect. Their marriage is squeezed tightly by repression and unspoken conflicts, with the two more likely to pass loaded exchanges about fascism back and forth than to address their relationship. Its effectiveness is a tribute to the great performances from Heffernan and Findlay.

It’s Findlay’s solid turn that really carries the film through a tired 20-minute stretch that occurs about an hour into the film. After building an effective atmosphere, The Banishing fails to deliver much in the way of incident, and viewers are likely to find themselves willing the film into action. Fortunately, the brilliant cast are just about able to drag you through to the final run, where there’s a little more excitement to be found.

There’s some great work from Anya McKenna Bruce as the young Adelaide and John Lynch as the glum and gravely Malachi. It’s Mission Impossible rotter Sean Harris’ turn as Harry Price that really grabs your attention, though. Sporting a slightly confusing hairdo, his intense and manic performance is fascinating and livens the film up a treat.

It’d be nice to have a little more originality, as the film is full of familiar hauntings and recognizable characters. But hey, creepy dolls with no eyes (every toy in this film looks like it is full of demons), wrong mirrors and violent visions have been creeping us all out for decades. The thing with using tricks that have worked in the past is, as long they’re delivered effectively (as they are in The Banishing), they tend to work. I’ll also take a moment to mention the Psycho reference that left this writer sporting a serious grin.

We’d be remiss if we let some of the excellent technical elements of The Banishing pass without mention. The production design is ace. The is full of dark, shadowy hallways and dusty rooms with too much ominous junk and nicely framed, terrifying mirrors in them. A scene that takes place in the Harry’s room features these lovely washed-out blue walls that are strangely eye-catching.

The scored music from Toydrum really stands out, too. The full and thudding soundtrack is an ordeal all by itself, generating a huge amount of tension on the films behalf.

The Banishing is just a good, dramatic and well-made haunted old English mansion movie that’ll have you yelling at the screen for the characters to run and get out of the house from about 5 minutes in. It’s like they made a movie on a foggy bank located somewhere between The Conjuring and a Hammer movie. It’s a steady-eddy spookshow that’s heavy on atmosphere but perhaps fails to make much of a lasting impression due to a lack of originality.


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