April 15th, 2021
MOVIE: THE BANISHING
STARRING: JESSICA BROWN FINDLAY, SEAN HARRIS, JOHN HEFFERNAN
DIRECTED BY: CHRISTOPHER SMITH
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
There’s a certain grand escape when it comes to the gothic, haunted house horrors film. The sets come alive and the locations typically do the heavy lifting of creating a tone of fear. The Banishing is a British film, set in the countryside of England, where it’s just the start of WWII, spirits are low, and Linus (John Heffernan) the new vicar for the church has moved into a big abandoned mansion in town with new wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her daughter Adelaide. The hope is for the family to start anew, find friendships with the people in town, and forget past traumas that sent them away in the first place. That’s not going to be the case as the big mansion starts to creak and crack behind the wall. Clearly something is inhabiting the house, it’s just a matter of what, but the process of getting to the conclusion is a thick slog. The Banishing has the pieces to make a good gothic horror, but instead squanders any positivity with a complete lack of energy. To put it lightly, The Banishing is boring.
Ultimately that’s what makes The Banishing such a disappointment. The characters are established early in the roles they will play, with Marianne being the major player, the wife looking for a new start, and committed to keeping her family happy. Jessica Brown Findlay is prepared and the Downton Abbey star is mainly the best reason to watch The Banishing. Written by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines, what seems to be a major issue is the narrative has too many directions to go. The narrative is coping with Marianne’s traumatic past, of where her daughter was born, and who the father was. Linus is jealous of anyone looking at his new wife while keeping a secret. Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) is hearing voices and talking to creepy dolls, and then Sean Harris plays Harry Price, the town drunkard that believes there’s something much more mysterious going on in that house.
When it comes to gothic horrors there are many aspects that need to be right for it to work. The setting in The Banishing is good, a massive home, with big wood doors, multiple staircases, and high ceilings reminding me of The Haunting (1963 version). It’s outside of this where everything goes wrong, especially the lighting, where a majority of scenes are too dark to comprehend, and any efforts to use minimal light is futile when we can’t see anything. The effort from director Christopher Smith is undoubtedly inspired by the likes of The Others, The Changeling, and most recently Crimson Peak. None of those films fall into a lull in the narrative, where Marianne tiptoes around the home, hearing giggles of children, reflections in mirrors not moving, and dark basements areas, all of it neither exciting or interesting by the end.
If much else can be said about The Banishing is that it’s just not striking all the right chords. There is an effort to merge the horrors of WWII, the terror of the Nazi’s, and the traumatic pressures put on women to childcare during the times; But even if those themes would work they are derailed at each turn of faulty craftwork. The screenplay tries to have a unique blend of the horrific traumas of war and also relate that to modern times. There’s too many flashbacks to the homes past inhibitors, hindering any momentum that Marianne’s story of being a single mother takes place, but also not enough creativity in scaring the audience. The Banishing is valiant in it’s effort, honoring the roots of gothic horror, but something goes wrong along the way. They forgot the lights, they forgot the focus, and they forgot the scares. Leave The Banishing to the side. It’s just not the kind of horror I was looking for.
THE BANISHING PREMIERES THURSDAY APRIL 15TH ON SHUDDER AND ON DEMAND.
Written by: Leo Brady