The Banishing Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Premiered on Shudder
Directed by Christopher Smith
Written by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines
2020, 97 minutes, Not Rated
Premiered on Shudder on April 15th, 2021
Jessica Brown Findlay as Marianne Forster
John Heffernan as Linus Forster
Anya McKenna-Bruce as Adelaide Forster
Sean Harris as Harry Reed
John Lynch as Bishop Malachi
Jean St. Clair as Betsy
When you’re making a classic haunting film, there are going to be certain elements (dare I say tropes?) that you simply cannot avoid. That’s fine – they’re hallmarks of the genre and stand the test of time. Likewise, England during the events leading up to World War Two is a setting that we’ve seen before…but for good reason. And here comes that eerily proper little girl with the clipped British accent who moves into a house and immediately has quite detailed imaginary friends. Uh-oh.
You could say we’ve seen this movie before, and you’d be right. Still, those are standard jumping-off points in a subgenre that has a definite look and sound. The question that matters is where does The Banishing go from there? And how well does it use the familiar trappings to tell a fresh story?
Marianne Forster (Jessica Brown-Findlay; Downton Abbey) is married to the local vicar, a priest named Linus Forster (John Heffernan; Dracula). Along with her daughter, Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce; Sense8), the blended family move to the country to turn around a failing church. Linus is appointed by Brother Malachi (John Lynch; Black Death), a man whose history is intertwined with the couple. They’re placed in a well-appointed manor, tucked safe and sound away from the war. Right beneath their feet, however, lies a far more dangerous ancient evil and the remains of a religious cult remembered only by the town madman, Harry Reed (Sean Harris; Prometheus). The strong and independent Marianne is soon losing her sanity, caught in the grip of something that could easily destroy her entire family.
Billed as “the true story of the most haunted house in England”, The Banishing is ultimately frustrating; a movie that looks, sounds, and probably even smells just right. Opening with bloody violence and intrigue after the house’s previous clergy occupant kills his wife (and Bishop Malachi is there to sweep it under the rug), the story rapidly shifts gears to the family drama of a stiff and celibate marriage combined with shady church politics. The shift slows everything down drastically.
You’re kept hanging in there by a kick-ass location that drips with gothic atmosphere and a trio of standout performances. Sean Harris is a note-perfect occultist with his razor-sharp accent and physical mannerisms; the man chews up scenes and spits them out. John Lynch is appropriately menacing as the corrupt bishop and provides much of the exposition you wait far too long for at the start of the third act.
This is Jessica Brown-Findlay’s show, however, and I can see why my wife was so jacked to see Lady Sybil Crawley from Downton Abbey! She’s organic and believable as the powerfully outspoken Marianne, a woman with “artist friends” and a past that’s downright scandalous by late 1930s English standards. She’s proud, though; defiant even. It’s a boss-level performance that deserves recognition in a film that falters noticeably in the early going.
That final third, though? Director Christopher Smith (Creep, Black Death) turns up the volume on the trippiness with some wonderful time loop/alternate reality stuff involving multiple Marianne’s clinging to the wall like roaches and a labyrinthine run-through mirrors. He even throws in a monster straight out of Silent Hill to serve as the fulcrum of a potentially bigger story that sets up a finish rife with possibilities that would take this by-the-numbers story in a wildly different direction. I like bold moves like that, especially in a period piece.
The Banishing stumbles a bit in the open with originality and pacing before finding its legs in the last half-hour or so. It takes what feels like an aggravatingly long time to get there, but the ending provides an overall satisfaction thanks in large part to an unstoppable Jessica Brown Findlay and the director’s decision to step on the damn gas and use the arsenal of talent at his fingertips.
Just enjoy the scenery a bit, eh? We’re almost there.
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