Variety has been given access to the first exclusive clip for horror movie “The Banishing,” which will have its market premiere during the Cannes Marché du Film this week, with WestEnd Films handling sales. Variety spoke to its director Christopher Smith, whose previous genre movies, “Creep,” “Triangle” and “Severance,” earned him a cult following.
Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey,” “Black Mirror”) and Sean Harris (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” “Prometheus”) star, alongside John Heffernan (“Eye in the Sky,” “Luther,” “Collateral” TV series) and John Lynch (“Black Death,” “Paul Apostle of Christ,” “The Secret Garden”).
The film, set in the late 1930s, tells the story of the most haunted house in England. A young reverend (Heffernan) and his wife (Brown Findlay) and daughter move into a manor with a horrifying secret. When a vengeful spirit haunts the little girl and threatens to tear the family apart, the reverend and his wife are forced to confront their beliefs. They must turn to black magic by seeking the help of a famous Occultist (Harris) or risk losing their daughter.
In the clip, Brown Findlay wakes with a start when she hears a sound outside. She looks out of the window to see her elderly maid pruning plants in the conservatory, then she notices a shadowy figure approaching the building.
Smith says he was keen to return to the horror genre after having “veered off” to do other things, such as comedy “Get Santa” and TV series “Alex Rider,” and as he was a fan of “The Shining” and the “contained story,” and liked the period in which “The Banishing” is set, the film appealed to him.
Smith amped up the atmosphere of foreboding of pre-war England. “In the original draft that I read it didn’t have really any reference to World War Two, and I wanted it to have this idea of the build up to war.” At that time – two and a half years ago – the Brexit campaign in the U.K. was at full throttle. “It had a weirdly isolationist vibe that I thought was a counterpoint to what was going on,” he says.
Despite the period setting Smith says he wanted the film to feel “resonant” today. He sees Brexit as having a hint of nostalgia for a bygone, “Brief Encounter” era. However, for Smith, this was a time when people would “hang themselves for their secrets. These aren’t the good old days.”
Brown Findlay plays a single mother and it is considered a scandal that she has brought her child into the world without a father, and even more of a scandal that she has married a vicar. “The house is crumbling the relationship between her and her husband. It is exploring the things that you beat yourself up about in your own life,” he says. “The house brings out the worst in the husband, who not so secretly judges his wife for having a sexual history.”
“The way I pushed and directed the script is so that the horror is coming out from within the characters,” he says, referring to an idea shared with him by Andy Nyman, creator of stage play and film “Ghost Stories,” that “ghosts are individual for the people; you get haunted by something different to the next man, based on your life. I really wanted to factor that into it.” He adds, the house doesn’t curse you, “you go into the house, and the house unravels you.”
He describes the part taken by Harris, with whom he worked on “Creep,” as taking as its starting point the performance of Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Although Harris plays the expert in all things supernatural “we always wanted to keep it real. I find the scariest horror movies are the ones where you deal with the real people,” he says, praising Stephen King as a genius “in the way he pulls you into real life situations.” Harris wanted his character to “be decadent but still rooted in something real,” he says, adding that the actor “brought a certain humor” to the film, but essentially it is a “dark horror movie.”