The Ghosts of Borley Rectory - New Release Review
Director: Steven M. Smith
Starring: Toby Wynn-Davies, Julian Sands, Toyah Willcox, Reece Putinas, Leila Kotori, Louisa Warren, Richard Harfst, and Lee Hancock
Written by: Steven M. Smith and Christopher Jolley
Produced by: Paul G. Andrews, Gregory Schmauss, Kris Smith, Steven M. Smith, and Louisa Warren
Cinematography by: Jonathan Nicol
Original Score by: Darren Wonnacott
In 1937, leading British paranormal investigator Harry Price has the opportunity to conduct a six-month long investigation at Borley Rectory. There he will encounter a demonic force and finally find the truth behind the ghosts that haunt the most haunted house in England.
Some horror films are great. Some horror films are good. Some horror films are bad and that’s part of the fun. 'The Ghosts of Borley Rectory', however, is just plain terrible. This low-budget, Amazon Original production is so poor that I almost regret watching it.
Director Steven M. Smith has already tackled the story of Borley Rectory in his 2019 film 'The Haunting of Borley Rectory', which currently has an abysmal 3.5/10 rating on IMDB. If this film was Smith’s attempt at redoing the story to get a better rating, I don’t think he’s achieved his goal. If the film embraced its straight-up badness, I wouldn’t have minded as much but 'The Ghosts of Borley Rectory' takes itself way too seriously. It is cringeworthy, boring, and awkward.
The cinematography is cheap and the editing is clunky; it feels like a bad BBC documentary at times. The director overuses exterior shots of the Rectory, most of which are not good, and the framing of the characters – who lack personality and are plagued with wooded and clichéd dialogue – is awkward. Many shots do not feel cinematic at all.
The backstory of the Rectory, which I was familiar with thanks to The Last Podcast on the Left’s coverage of it in their two-part series, is practically non-existent. Why is our protagonist, Harry Price, so obsessed with the story of Borley Rectory? If this film was my only resource, I couldn’t tell you!
The structure of the film, at first, appeared to be one of its saving graces. It opens with Harry Price’s initial 6 months in the Rectory, fast-forward to a year where Price reveals why he spent more time in the Rectory than planned, and then it flashes back to the ‘horror’ Price experienced there last month. However, it then ruins it by randomly having the Rectory burn down ‘for some mysterious reason’. If a film leaves you shaking your head and saying, ‘what the ***’, that’s not a good thing.
The film’s main antagonist, a ghostly nun, feels forced and out of place. The nun is terrible! The special effects are beyond cheap – I could do better on a free photoshop app, for goodness sake – and she lacks any drives or legit scariness. The nun’s obsession with Marianne, the wife of the minister who was the most recent tenant, feels random and lacks any sense. And we never get any answers in relation to it – who is she? What does she want? Why is she obsessed with Marianne? How did she die? Why is she stuck there? I don’t know!
Then, we not only have bad séance scenes where they communicate with the spirits within the Rectory, but it becomes about a higher power, a strong demonic force that is scaring the other spirits and trapping them in the Rectory. The reveal of this demonic power feels random, anticlimactic, and their face, which is meant to be scary, is clearly a cheap rubber mask with fake horns. It’s really bad.
The only thing I liked about the film was its opening credits – wonderfully Victorian with a good score – and the positive representation of Helen as an overweight woman who has (relative) agency and a believable story arc that isn’t connected to her weight in any way. That was a breath of fresh air, but it was unfortunately the film’s only one.
Borley Rectory is a legitimately creepy and (allegedly) true story that deserves much better treatment than this. Let’s hope Steven M. Smith doesn’t attempt it a third time.
- Victoria Brown