Written by: Matt Patti | April 15th, 2021
The Banishing (Christopher Smith, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.
When I watch horror films, I search for three basic requirements to satisfy me. Does the film actually frighten through suspense, tension or a creepy atmosphere/imagery, do I care about the film’s characters, and does the film have a captivating plot that keeps me engaged? If a horror film meets two out of these three criteria, I typically enjoy it. In most cases, if the characters are compelling and the film scary, I can forgive some plot shortcomings. A horror film need not have an amazing, unique concept to succeed in my book, although I enjoy seeing some extraordinary ideas flourish. Take a film like The Conjuring, for instance, where the plot is akin to most other haunted-house films, with little variance: despite that, the film excels in the fright department and has compelling, fleshed-out characters, therefore making it one of my favorites of the genre. However, when a film has a hackneyed plot and bland characters, even if it provides some decent scares, it does not usually work in the end. Such is the case with director Christopher Smith’s The Banishing.
In 1930s England, a Reverend, his wife and daughter move in to a new home: a large manor with historical significance. This is where the story begins. The Reverend, Linus (John Heffernan, Eye in the Sky), works at a nearby church in which most of its congregation has left. Meanwhile, his wife, Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay, Victor Frankenstein), is left at home alone most of the day with their daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce). While at the old manor, Marianne sees disturbing beings and experiences strange visions, all to her husband’s disbelief. Soon, they find that Adelaide is in serious danger and have to seek the help of a disgraced town charlatan to end their nightmare.
On its technical merits, the film is quite satisfactory. It is well-shot, with creative framing in many scenes. The soundtrack is chilling and unnerving when it needs to be. The editing, also, is commendable. All of these aspects combine to achieve some satisfying scares and disturbing imagery throughout the film. The performances of the cast are all decent, as well. However, the plot is where we find many issues. Not only is the storyline uncreative and very similar to many horror films we’ve seen before, but it also manages to be convoluted in many areas, especially with certain recurring characters whose roles we constantly question. Then, when the plot does make sense near the end, it just goes back to being something we’ve all seen many times over. The film does have some intriguing commentary on the trials and tribulations of a new marriage and the struggles partners have with trust, especially in that time period. However, that is the only unique aspect of the film’s plot and it is not explored much after the first half of the film.
So, the film offers passable suspense and scares. However, the story is a bit overcomplicated and when it’s not, it’s trite and too similar to other films. One out of the three criteria have been met, and one has been missed. Now, it all comes down to the characters. Do I feel a connection to them, and are they deep and compelling? As you may guess by the review score at the top of this page, the answer is no. The characters aren’t nearly interesting enough to care about at all. Not one of them has any identifying aspects that set them apart from the others, even our central characters. The potential for some layered development is there, specifically with Marianne; however, past traumas and events are only hinted at and never really fully explored. Therefore, the folks in the film are even more dull and uninspiring than the mainstream paranormal plotline.
Overall, The Banishing is a disappointing film that, while not completely awful, does not live up to my expectations of a solid horror film. The Conjuring universe along with its sister franchise Insidious have opened the doors for supernatural films that follow a similar formula to squeeze their way into people’s living rooms. However, some of these films that contain stories we’ve definitely seen before do not get the most important aspects of their film – the characters and/or the horror – right. The Banishing fits this bill with its bland protagonists and therefore should be banished in its own right alongside many of the other similar horror hit-and-misses that try to capture the magic of director James Wan’s masterpiece, but can’t even come close.