Too restrained to be fun and too superficial to be chilling, The Banishing is a dull film that feels much longer than its 97 minutes. Elisabetta Pulcini reviews.
The Banishing follows a young family formed by Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay), her daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) and her husband Linus (John Heffernan), a vicar, as they move to a haunted mansion in a small town. Set in the 1930, it is loosely based on Borley Rectory, known as “the most haunted house in England.” The movie was directed by Christopher Smith (Triangle, Severance, Black Death) and written by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines.
A haunted house premise is a boring, but safe choice. It gives creators the freedom to play with new themes in a setting easily recognizable to all viewers. Some of the best horror of recent years plays with this concept: the film His House used it to explore immigration and integration, while Netflix series Haunting of Hill House expanded on some of the most played out tropes to deliver a compelling family drama. Unfortunately, The Banishing is too concerned with pointless sub-plots to ever reach the depth of the previously mentioned projects. Even when it touches on some of its themes, such as repression and religion, the muddled plot strips the film of any real depth. One example is the surprising involvement of the Nazis, which is unnecessary and bordering on ridiculous.
However, horror movies can be effective even when lacking depth. A charismatic performance or a particularly effective scare can save any film. Unfortunately, the performances and direction are excessively subdued, lacking the energy to turn the played-out tropes into mindless fun. The pacing of the film is incredibly slow, with most of the first and second act delivering little to no horror. It is especially disappointing that, given how the first scene ends up being the most gruesome of the film, the plot takes a while to get going. This is not helped by the endlessly uninteresting dialogue which seems to bore the performers as much as the viewer. A stand-out performance is that of Sean Harris, who does his best to breathe life into his sadly irrelevant character.
Despite their disappointing rarity, there are a handful of scenes that, while failing scare, deliver on interesting visuals. These work because of their simplicity. In fact, the film is visually appealing as a whole, with the lighting and setting being particularly suited to a gothic period drama. However, the reason why the scares fail is that they suffer from over-exposure: this dissolves the little tension built up in the viewer. One in particular sees Marianne waving in a mirror, noticing her reflection is out of sync with her. This was an effective scare on its own. However, her daughter jumps out right after, ending the scene on a cheap jump-scare, almost as if the director did not trust the scene to stand on its own. Although the third act improves on the rest of the film, the excessive exposition bogs down the horror by lessening the impact of some compelling visuals. Scenes that could have used silence are instead fully narrated by the characters.
It is likely that The Banishing will bore many viewers due to its lack of scares and familiar plot. It is ultimately a disappointing film, displaying a frustrating lack of energy despite the occasional compelling visual.
The Banishing will stream exclusively to Shudder on 15 April in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.
Words By Elisabetta Pulcini
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