Let’s be clear: whether you believe the events depicted in The Enfield Haunting to be real or not has no bearing. What actually matters is whether or not this drama from Kristoffer Nyholm, the acclaimed director of Danish police procedural show The Killing, is actually any good. And it happens to be very good indeed.
Based on the book by Guy Lyon Playfair (here played with wit and caddish charm by Macfadyen), this three-part series tells the amazing story of what supposedly happened to an average family in Enfield, London over a period of time beginning in August 1977. When two teenage girls, Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and Margaret (Fern Deacon), fall victim to an aggressive spirit, Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall), an inventor with an interest in the paranormal, is sent to investigate. Assisted by Playfair, the pair become convinced of the authenticity of the girl’s claims despite pressure to the contrary from the Society for Psychical Research.
The strengths of The Enfield Haunting stem primarily from its simplicity. This is a series focussing on the characters at the centre of the haunting rather than on the haunting itself. Of course, the poltergeist is important but it is how the family and those around them behave that is most interesting. Initial terror gives way to a reluctant acceptance as what first seems extraordinary becomes wearily routine for the beleaguered family. The comings and goings of various “experts” (although notably not The Warrens, who will tackle their version of this story in the sequel to The Conjuring) offer a balanced view on the tale, with Nyholm preferring to leave the audience to decide for themselves on the true validity.
The performances throughout are exemplary, with Worthington-Cox as primary victim Janet worthy of note. Her at times uncomfortable relationship with Spall’s Grosse (think Mr. Turner with less grunting and a few smiles) provides the emotional centre of the piece; a father-daughter understanding that they both desperately need.
With little fuss and few unnecessary histrionics, The Enfield Haunting does exactly what it sets out to do. There are occasional jump scares and moments of horror cliché scattered through the episodes, but these serve to advance the narrative rather than be there simply to frighten the audience. There is real subtlety here, with discomfort and fear generated through your engagement with the characters rather than by loud bangs and crashes.
Intentionally slow paced at times, The Enfield Haunting is an intensely impressive depiction of a family haunted by a malevolent spirit. It should serve as a template for what can be achieved without the need for excessive, improbable effects and is one of the best horrors you will watch this year. Whatever you believe, Nyholm’s version is certainly credible and one that will leave you wondering.
THE ENFIELD HAUNTING / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: KRISTOFFER NYHOLM / SCREENPLAY: GUY LYON PLAYFAIR, JOSHUA ST JOHNSTON / STARRING: TIMOTHY SPALL, MATTHEW MACFADYEN, ELEANOR WORTHINGTON-COX, FERN DEACON, JULIET STEVENSON / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 19TH