Tag Archives: Christopher Smith

This Old House

The Banishing

by Hope Madden

Filmmaker Christopher Smith has repeatedly proven a knack for horror.

Whether he locks us up in the tunnels beneath London with Franka Potente (2004’s Creep), transports us to the Dark Ages with Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne (2010’s Black Death), or forces us on a weekend corporate team building of death (the sublime 2006 horror comedy Severance), Smith takes an audience somewhere we probably shouldn’t go.

The Banishing drops us in rural England, just days before WWII. Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey) and her young daughter arrive at a beautiful-if-creepy estate where Marianne’s husband Linus (John Heffernan) has just been appointed Vicar.

Naturally, the house is haunted. The Church says one thing, but this odd redhead from town (Sean Harris, the picture of subdued weirdness) whispers another.

The Banishing is really the first Smith film to walk such familiar ground. His screenplay, co-written with David Beton and Ray Bogdanovich, takes inspiration from England’s infamous Borley Rectory—allegedly the nation’s most haunted house.

The direction that inspiration leads is rarely in question. Smith trots out a lot of familiar ideas, though he does package them well. Some incredibly creepy images accompany Marianne’s deepest fears, and Smith puts horror’s beloved old mirror prop to exceedingly spooky use.

Performances are solid as well. Findlay, in particular, finds depth and genuineness in the frequently portrayed role of the woman to be deemed insane in lieu of dealing with the supernatural.

Smith sometimes crosses over effectively into the inner working of the mind, and these scenes feel freshest and most engaging. They are overwhelmed, unfortunately, with stale plot devices.

The result feels very un-Christopher Smith-like (if there is such a thing). He’s been a tough filmmaker to pinpoint because each of his movies varies so wildly from the last. The Banishing looks and feels unlike anything else he’s done. Too bad it feels so much like what everyone else has.

Change of Direction


by Hope Madden

Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith has some tricks up his sleeve.

The director/sometimes writer is willing to try most anything in the genre – from medical horror (2004’s Creep) to period horror (2010’s Black Death) to brilliant, blistering and woefully underseen horror comedy (2006’s Severance).

But he takes a harder left than usual with his latest, Detour – a noir-esque road picture with revenge on its mind.

Well-cast and enjoyably pulpy, the film follows Harper (Tye Sheridan) – law student and all around good kid – as he spins a dangerous web. He blames his stepdad (Stephen Moyer) for his mother’s coma, backing himself into a deal with local no-goodnicks Johnny Ray and Cherry (Emory Cohen and Bel Powley, respectively).

Twice the film winks toward the great Paul Newman neo-noir Harper as well as Strangers on a Train, then pulls more blatantly from Edgar Ulmer’s 1945 noir Detour. But Smith’s Detour feels more like style over substance than it does hard boiled or twisty.

Sheridan cuts a believably innocent figure, and Harper’s drunken ramblings are a hoot. Cohen – such a peach in last year’s Brooklyn – finely articulates the hot-headed, coked-out but ultimately wounded Johnny, while Powley manages to bring more than just a rosy pout to her under-developed but intriguing character.

Detour also litters the dusty road trip from Cali to Vegas with some weirdly compelling characters, chief among them Frank (John Lynch – so creepy!).

But Smith just does better when he’s working with another writer.

At a pivotal moment in Harper’s story, Smith brings in the split screen, drawing attention to a conversation – a little anecdote about conscience – Harper and Johnny Ray shared over loads of liquor the evening before.

Here’s where Smith’s directing outshines his writing.

With the split screen comes the mystery and the provocative notion that Smith is building then rebuilding the story. But the story can’t keep up, and in the end the split screen is little more than a gimmick – a great looking one, but a gimmick nonetheless.

Early clues are too tidy, later choices far sloppier, the resolution neither cynical nor satisfying enough to tie things up.

That’s not to say Detour is a total miss, just that it doesn’t live up to its potential.


Your Film-a-Day Guide to October! Day 18: Severance

Severance (2006)

Genuinely funny and exhaustingly brutal, Christopher Smith’s British import Severance offers a mischievous team-building exercise in horror. A handful of would-be execs for global weapons manufacturer Palisade Defense are misled and slaughtered in what they believe to be a mandatory weekend excursion in Hungary to build corporate camaraderie.

Smith and co-writer James Moran’s wickedly insightful script mocks corporate culture as Smith’s direction pays homage to the weirdest assortment of films. The result is an uproarious but no less frightening visit to an area of the world that apparently scares the shit out of us: Eastern Europe. (Think Hostel, The Human Centipede, Borat.)

An epically watchable flick, Severance boasts solid performances, well-placed bear traps and landmines, a flamethrower and an excellent balance of black humor and true horror. To say more would be to give too much away, but rest assured that with every scene Smith and crew generate palpable tension. It erupts with equally entertaining measure in either a good, solid laugh or in a horrible, disfiguring dose of horror. How awesome is that?!