Over the past few years, there’s been a revival of interest in Borley Rectory, once tagged ‘the most haunted house in England’ (you can’t visit it to find out – it was partially burned down in 1939 and demolished in 1944). Since Ashley Thorpe’s Borley Rectory (2017), there have been a clutch of projects dealing with the place – Borley Rectory and The Haunting of Borley Rectory in 2019 and The Ghosts of Borley Rectory out next year. Director Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance, Black Death) – working from a script by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Lines – homes in on one of several families who claimed to be persecuted by the supernatural during residency in the Rectory in the 1930s.
It concentrates on psychological nuance with hints that what’s going on the house – built on the ruins of an abbey that might have been consecrated to a particularly nasty idea of God – is linked with an ecclesiastical conspiracy and even the rise of fascism in Europe. Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay), wife of new vicar Linus (John Heffernan), is the main character, and she has her own demons – plus a little girl (Anya McKenna-Bruce) whose maternity is under question – while the controversial real-life ghost hunter Harry Price (Sean Harris) is played as a red-headed semi-spiv fanatic who’s in some sort of tussle with the church, as represented by the sinister Malachi (John Lynch).
There’s spook business with mirrors and monk figures, but it’s mostly a sombre, steady character drama in which everyone gets to crack up. Heffernan adds to his recent run of quivering neurotic roles (he was Jonathan Harker in the BBC’s recent Dracula) as a cleric who always seems on the point of ripping off his dog-collar and primal screaming, while Harris (who was the titular Creep) is full-on sinister and tormented and must count among the least reassuring psychic investigators in the cinema.