Steven M Smith’s low-budget British chiller is a rather idiosyncratic little film that pops up on Prime to go bump in your night. It’s a UK response to the popularity of movies like Conjuring 2, in which US film-makers made a credible job of bring the rather British story of the Enfield poltergeist to life. It’s worth a look, if only to spot the difference between US and UK approaches.
It’s 1937, Essex, and Britain’s most haunted house comes under the scrutiny of Harry Price, a paranormal investigator played by Toby Wynn-Davies. Price has to navigate his way through a cast of eccentric characters, played by such familiar faces as Toyah Wilcox, Julian Sands and least-popular Doctor Who Colin Baker. Ghosts are the goal, and Price’s glacially slow investigation takes its sweet time uncovering anything mysterious enough that a well-placed draught excluder couldn’t solve.
‘I’ve seen plenty of strange happenings. My family have lived round here for years. They tell tales. I prefer to stay away. What’s the Rectory’s business stays there…’ says one character, but even if what happens in Borley Rectory, stays in Borley Rectory, you can’t keep a good ghost down, and soon the spirits are ringing little bells, organising cold spots, and generally pulling the chain of anyone careless enough to get in their way.
What’s extraordinary about this film is the levels of chat contained; every discovery is prefaced by at least ten minutes of ‘What I’m about to tell you…’ dialogue. Yet there is something admirable about The Ghosts of Borley Rectory; it’s trying to be restrained, forensic and level-headed in a way that the US versions of this kind of story are not. But this isn’t MR James, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and good intentions eventually come crashing down. Smith’s film is a remarkably restrained ghost story that offers parsimonious amounts of the paranormal activity the title suggests.