On DigitalReviews

The Banishing (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Christopher Smith, UK, 2020, 97 mins

Cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, John Heffernan, Anya McKenna-Bruce, Sean Harris, John Lynch

Review by Colin Dibben

An effective costume drama haunted house horror film that is derailed – or transfigured, depending on your taste for the bizarre – by Sean Harris’ performance as real-life ghost hunter Harry Price.

It’s the mid-1930s and the uptight Reverend Linus (Heffernan) moves into Borley Rectory with his testy new wife Marianne (Findlay) and her daughter from a previous relationship, Adelaide (McKenna-Bruce).

Odd things start to happen: Marianne sees cowled figures lurking outside at night, Adelaide keeps on disappearing and there is a mirror in one of the rooms that seems to have a mind of its own.

Enquiries to oily, sinister Bishop Malachi (Lynch) just produce more obfuscation, so Marianne turns to colourful local ghost hunter, Harry Price (Harris).

It turns out that the rectory was built on top of an old abbey whose monks were given to some very un-Christian practices. And now they are back, screaming for blood.

The first half of The Banishing is a pretty effective if slightly cosy ‘costume horror’. The décor and sets and Marianne’s clothes are nice, hell, even the spooky sense of threat is nice.

The acting is generally spot on, with Findlay very good at the ‘modern woman’s’ spiky independence and McKenna-Bruce a creepy mix of needy and tantrum-ready. The tension between Marianne and Linus is palpable, although his problem with carnal relations seems implausible.

Enter Sean Harris, who plays Harry Price very boldly as a mix of Quentin Crisp and Harvey Keitel’s character Sport in Taxi Driver. Harris looks like he is having lots of fun (in so far as he ever looks like he is), but he does steal the show shamelessly and completely.

Every scene he is in, you have to remind yourself that The Banishing is really about undead murderous monks and the efforts of the Anglican Church to co-opt their supernatural power in the face of the rise of fascism.

Somehow, none of that is as interesting as wondering what Sean Harris’s character will do next. It isn’t just the way he dresses or does his hair, or the way he mumbles his lines – it’s also the way he pops into shot at strange moments.

Now if I was a murderous, undead, heretical monk with a penchant for pain and torture, I’d be really pissed off to be upstaged like this.

I hope Sean’s co-stars are more forgiving.

The Banishing is out on digital on 26 March.