GRIMMFEST 2017: Borley Rectory
8th October 2017
When Mirror journalist V C Wall calls upon the services of famed Paranormal investigator Harry Price to investigate supernatural 'goings on' at a Victorian mansion in Essex, little does he realise that he will set into motion a story that will fascinate and confound the world.
The myths, legends, and facts surrounding what was allegedly England’s most haunted house are explored in Borley Rectory, Ashley Thorpe’s fascinating and visually stunning docu-drama.
Presented in stark black and white and narrated with delicious enthusiasm by Julian Sands (Leaving Las Vegas, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), the film dramatizes the stories which have emerged from the rectory and stars Reece Shearsmith (The Cottage, Shaun of the Dead) as journalist V.C. Wall who visits the house to investigate the reports. Along with paranormal researcher Harry Price (played by Jonathan Rigby), the duo encounters extraordinary phenomena plaguing the various families who live there over the course of a few years, ultimately resulting in the rectory gaining the notoriety it still carries today.
The decision to release Borley Rectory in its colourless, vintage state is an inspired one and undoubtedly adds to the atmosphere. Images flicker and judder like it is being played through an antique hand-cranked film projector and scenes transition from one to the other with a long-forgotten Iris Wipe. Don’t be fooled by its old-timey approach, however: Borley Rectory‘s filmmaking methods are far from basic, and it’s just as stylish as it is informative, mixing extensive green screen usage with the occasional prop to accomplish a layered, almost popup book-like effect.
Shearsmith, who is no stranger to the horror genre after making appearances in the criminally underrated horror comedy The Cottage and bringing scares to the small screen in a number of episodes of the excellent British anthology series Inside No. 9, is sublime here as the pipe smoking, inquisitive reporter. Jonathan Rigby impresses as the slightly eccentric and arguably fame hungry researcher Harry Price, and the rest of the cast is thoroughly believable as the tormented residents.
Borley Rectory to its absolute credit never stoops to cheap scares, even when the perfect opportunity for something to jump out or flash on screen arrives. Instead, Thorpe lets the facts and personal accounts of former tenants do the talking, resulting in a genuine and constant aura of dread due to its authenticity. Make no mistake, Borley Rectory will raise your goosebumps, have you pulling the duvet up close to your chin, and make you question all the creaks and groans of your own home.
If you enjoy the classic haunted house movies of yesteryear, you’ll find much to love about Borley Rectory. It is essentially an old-fashioned ghost story with the advantage of being backed up by research and eyewitness accounts. A small gripe I had was in its closing moments when further revelations about the occupants of the house are revealed. It would have been interesting to see these shown in the same way as the rest of the film, rather than just a few lines of text.
Regardless, Borley Rectory is an extensive insight into one of the most intriguing mysteries in England’s history, while simultaneously being a loving homage to many of the early 20th century films it influenced. This is an essential watch for anyone with even the slightest inclination into the paranormal, as well as aficionados of classic cinema.
As stylish as it is insightful
Fantastically narrated and performed
Perfectly captures the essence of 1920s cinema
Deeper dramatized exploration of the characters who lived there would have been great to see, rather than being written text