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Review: 'The Banishing' is a Muted, Ghostly Affair

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 16, 2021
'The Banishing'
'The Banishing'  (Source:Shudder)

From Christopher Smith, the director of the cult faves "Triangle" and "Severance," comes a more muted, ghostly affair with "The Banishing."

Starring "Downton Abbey" alum Jessica Brown Findlay, the film tells the tale of an old English manor with a horrifying past. This causes a laundry list of spooky goings-on for new tenants, Pastor Linus (John Heffernan), his new wife Marianne (Findlay), and her daughter Adelaide, nicknamed "Addy" (Anya McKenna-Bruce).

Once the three move in together, we become aware that Marianne has a troubled past and that Pastor Linus has become sort of a savior for her and her daughter. He, meanwhile, isn't the warmest of folks, and when Marianne and Addy start seeing and hearing odd things in the house, he isn't willing to believe them.

One person that does believe them is a crazy man about town named Harry Price (Sean Harris), who is aware of the manor's past and tries to warn Marianne of what might happen there. He is usurped by another man of the cloth named Malachi (John Lynch), who wants to keep the past buried.

As Marianne confronts the strange goings-on in her new home - complete with hallucinations, secret hallways, doppelgängers, and unnerving reflections - the story becomes more and more convoluted, to the point of complete confusion.

To be honest, this reviewer still has no idea what the script was trying to convey. Written by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines, the film feels like three different stories that someone tried to mash together. The hallucinations don't have much to do with the distant voices, the weird reflections don't seem to mesh with the traumatic history of the manor, and the doppelgangers that pop up don't seem to connect much to any part of the story at all.

It's a total grab bag of horror movie cliches thrown together and stirred up in an attractive package, but with no through line to make sense of it all. And unless I missed something, in the first 15-minutes of the film the Pastor and Marianne show an attraction to each other, but Marianne is reluctant to share his bed because he's "already married." Yet, as the movie goes on, they are continually referred to as man and wife. So with whom is he actually married? It felt like a chunk of the movie was cut out and the explanation for this was left on the editing room floor.

There are a few stunning moments, but they don't seem to make sense in the narrative. The mirror scenes that show reflections not acting as expected, or people walking through mirrors, or doppelgängers running around the house never gel with the outcome of the story. It feels like these are cool sequences filmed simply because they look neat, but ultimately they don't mean much.

Findlay is a good actress — actually, all of the actors are good — but they seem as confused by the narrative as the audience is. And, ultimately, it's hard to care what's happening, because we can't get a grasp on what mystery we're expected to follow. Not to mention that the title of the film doesn't seem to have any relation to anything occurring on screen.

"The Banishing" is a handsome-looking film with good actors and a director that certainly has some style. It's just too bad the script didn't banish half of the convoluted plots it wants to explore in favor of something a bit more streamlined and interesting.

"The Banishing" streams exclusively on Shudder April 16th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.

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