Jessica Brown Findlay as Marianne in THE BANISHING Key Art |©2021 Shudder

Jessica Brown Findlay as Marianne in THE BANISHING |©2021 Shudder

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Jessica Brown Findlay, John Heffernan, Adam Hugill, Anya McKenna-Bruce, Jean St. Clair, Jason Thorpe, John Lynch, Sean Harris
Writers: David Beton, Ray Lines & Dean Bogdanovich
Director: Christopher Smith
Distributor: Shudder
Release Date: April 15, 2021

THE BANISHING is directed by Christopher Smith, who is responsible for the brilliant, hilarious SEVERANCE. THE BANISHING isn’t remotely amusing (and isn’t attempting to be), and it treads a familiar path, but it’s decently scary.

In early 1930s England, there’s a horrific murder/suicide of a vicar and his wife at Morley Hall. Anglican bishop Malachi (John Lynch), the vicar’s superior, is brought to the scene. The bishop dictates that the mess be cleaned up, and the incident be covered up.

Three years later, Hitler is on the rise in Europe, England fears war, and new vicar Linus Forster (John Heffernan) arrives in the village with his new wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Marianne’s young daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce). The bishop has arranged for the family to move into the now-vacant manor.

The Forsters are unaware of the deaths that occurred in their new home, but it doesn’t take long for Adelaide to start playing with some odd dolls she finds. Marianne begins seeing and hearing odd things. Linus is no help, since he’s wrestling with religious doctrine that seems to forbid sex even within marriage.

Marianne’s isolation and her back story are the most intriguing aspects of THE BANISHING. Findlay gives a warm, empathetic performance, and McKenna-Bruce is very good as the vulnerable little girl.

Smith also gets a lot of mileage out of the vast setting, which has rooms upon rooms, an alarming number of mirrors, and ominous pools of darkness. The foundation of the haunting in the screenplay, credited to David Beton, Ray Lines & Dean Bogdanovich, is properly disturbing, the sort of thing that plausibly creates restless spirits.

It’s fun, spooky stuff, even if there are things that don’t add up, starting with the title. It’s not clear who or what exactly is being banished.

There are also some character questions. We’re startled to find that Marianne really does love Linus, since (the fault of the screenplay, not actor Heffernan) he is shown to be, at best, a self-righteous prig. If this is meant to be a solid relationship when they’re not under the influence of the house, we ought to see a little more of that.

There’s also the decision to have the character (Sean Harris) who’s got the answers present himself as scary and off-putting. Given his goals, it seems like he’d logically try to make himself a little more approachable.

Finally, there are the events of the finale. We get an answer to one big plot question that’s been looming over the proceedings, only to be left with an even bigger one.

Publicity materials state that THE BANISHING tells the story of “the most haunted house in England.” This hype fortunately isn’t in the movie itself, as while the house has a bleak history, it won’t strike most genre viewers as exceptional. It is, however, good for some moody shudders.

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