Silliness trumps scares in Christopher Smith’s “The Banishing,” a bewildering haunted-house tale larded with Nazis, mad monks, fallen women and a tango-dancing occultist. Why no one thought to include a zombie or two is anyone’s guess.
The house in question is a sprawling rectory in rural England, the year is 1938 and a young reverend, Linus (John Heffernan), has arrived to replace the cleric who disappeared with his family some years earlier. Accompanying Linus is his new bride, Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay), and her out-of-wedlock daughter, Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce). Linus might have generously saved Marianne from societal scorn, but he has no intention of falling prey to her lustful wiles, frantically thumbing his Bible for passages that fortify his resolve.
Unsurprisingly, Marianne is not down with this, but is distracted by Adelaide’s invisible friends and tiny, creepy tableaus featuring an eyeless china doll. When the strange noises and disturbing apparitions begin, Linus turns to his forbidding superior (John Lynch), while Marianne prefers the counsel of a wild-eyed occultist (Sean Harris). Both men are more concerning than anything going bump in the home’s tomblike basement.
With a plot steeped in faith-based misogyny and performances ranging from mildly pickled (Harris) to remarkably touching (Brown Findlay), “The Banishing” never finds its groove. Casually inspired by a supposedly haunted rectory in Southeast England, the story struggles to link the couple’s domestic terrors with those of the outside world. War is on the horizon, but the rise of fascism feels unconnected to the film’s dance of desire and denial, pleasure and punishment. A kind of tango, if you like.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. Watch on Shudder.