Reviews | Written by John Townsend 10/12/2021


Early on in Steven M. Smith’s The Ghosts of Borley Rectory, one character asks, ‘…what do you hope to achieve with this?’, and it’s a valid question. Because if you’re going to tackle a renowned ghost story then you should aim to at least bring something new and original to the story. And frustratingly, Smith doesn’t.

From the outset, there is a docudrama feel to proceedings, as if what you're viewing is really a re-enactment for some obscure digital history channel, with the dialogue awkward and the direction static and uninspiring. Frequent use of ‘old chap’, ‘my dear boy’ and ‘jolly good’ clutter the script, and with clumsy regional accents coupled with unnecessarily earnest acting, you never feel at all engaged with what’s on-screen.

Harry Price’s investigations into the alleged hauntings at Borley are well documented. Whether authentic or fraudulent isn’t an issue tackled by Smith’s film; instead, he focuses on developing the darker side of events, with the infamous nun portrayed as a deeply malevolent figure. There are occasionally effective moments but the reliance on routine genre tricks plucked from a well-used repertoire of cinematic tropes quickly becomes tedious.

In recent years, the ghost story has moved on with Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting series raising the bar as to what can be achieved with a familiar, well-known story. This is the benchmark for emotionally connected, ghostly tales and, while Smith’s film seems to reference similar themes in places, it never replicates the energy and intensity required.

Sadly, what remains is a film that plods along to a dull finale and leaves you wondering why it was even made at all.

For a considerably more interesting, if still flawed, take on the legend Ashley Carrion’s 2017 part-animated film Borley Rectory is available on Netflix.

The Ghosts of Borley Rectory is available on DVD and digital now.