The Reel Review


In 1938, on the verge of England entering World War II, a sexually uptight vicar, his sexually frustrated wife, and their daughter move in to Borley Rectory – a cursed house in southeast England with a horrifying secret. This horror/thriller on Shudder is very loosely based on the actual family that once lived there.

Anya McKenna-Bruce, Jessica Findlay Brown, John Heffernan and Sean Harris in The Banishing.

After a promising prologue, the Forsters move into their spooky new home, where things start going bump in the night and young Adie (a name we hear uttered ad nauseum throughout the entire film) adopts an imaginary friend and starts playing with creepy cloaked dolls that look either like demented Franciscan monks or Jawas from Star Wars. (Your pick.) Soon thereafter, mirror images of family members start deviating from their movements, and everyone starts behaving strangely.

Hooded specters briefly terrorize young Anya McKenna-Bruce in The Banishing.

Despite some solid production values and the requisite beautiful-but-creepy English countryside setting, The Banishing is all style and no substance – or scariness – or coherent story. Jessica Brown Findlay (Brave New World, Downton Abbey) gamely gives it her all, John Heffernan (Eye in the Sky) looks half asleep, and Sean Harris (Prometheus) is practically manic as the psychic. It’s like they are each acting in different films, any of which are still so dull that it would drive any self-respecting ghost mad. Banish this waste of a film from your viewing queue now and just rewatch Findlay as Lady Sybil in the first three seasons of Downton Abbey. 


Paranormal researcher Harry Price and an 1892 photo of Borley Rectory.

• Paranormal researcher Harry Price made headlines in 1940 after he called Borley Rectory “the most haunted house in England” after Lionel, Marianne and Adelaide Foyster reported paranormal activity while living there from 1930 to 1935.  Marianne later admitted concocting the stories to prank acquaintances and cover for her affair with lodger and handyman Frank Pearless. Following Price’s death, Price’s associates published a book, concluding he, too, had faked some of the phenomena.

The Banishing director Christopher Smith also worked with John Lynch in his 2010 period action drama, Black Death, about England’s first outbreak of bubonic plague in 1348, starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.

Jessica Brown Findlay and Ziggy Heath in January 2020.

• Jessica Brown Findlay married actor Ziggy Heath in September 2020. They met in 2017 while filming the BBC TV series Harlots. 



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