June 2, 2019 The Haunting of Borley Manor (Movie Review)
Don’t go digging around in the past, because nothing good will come of it! Blending together slices of history with tales of England’s “most haunted house,” Borley Rectory, The Haunting of Borley Manor makes a bid for Supernatural Horror fandom. Now 101 Films International deliver the film to DVD and VOD in the North American market on Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
The story, set in 1944, revolves around a U.S. serviceman, Lieutenant Robert O’Neil (Zach Clifford: The Derelict: A Star Trek Fan Production short 2017), who is injured in World War II during an Allied campaign in Italy. Limping and walking with the aid of a cane, he is no longer able to serve on the front lines and is instead sent to the British countryside. Stationed at Borley Manor, a cottage near the ruins of Borley Rectory, the language expert—with a soft spot for hard liquor—monitors German radio chatter, searching for patterns and codes that might aid the Allies in their fight against the Axis.
Shortly into his stay, two individuals change the course of events: a sweet local woman named Laura (Kit Pascoe in her acting debut), as well as the groundskeeper of the manor, Edward Gibson (Garry Roost: EastEnders series, Black Books series). Each offer Robert a glimpse into the history of Borley Rectory and the reputation surrounding its grounds. Once he is warned to stay away, he, of course, finds himself drawn to the ruins and a mysterious nun (Georgi Taylor Wills in her acting debut) who seems to appear at random intervals only to disappear into thin air.
As his dreams begin to grow increasingly vivid and he begins to sense an increase in the paranormal activity surrounding the manor and rectory, Robert’s desire for answer will intensify. Are Borley Manor and the rectory’s ruins truly haunted? And, if so, is this nun figure drawn to misery and an omen of future catastrophe, or is she merely an apparition trapped at the scene of a tragedy?
Clocking in at 90 minutes, The Haunting of Borley Manor, also known as The Haunting of Borley Rectory, was directed by Steven M. Smith (Red Army Hooligans 2018, Doll Cemetery 2019), and written by Smith along with Christopher Jolley (Age of the Living Dead 2018, Virus of the Dead 2018) and Mark Behar (Haunted 2013, Haunted 2 – Apparitions 2018).
The film also utilizes the acting talents of Rad Brown (Doorways 2015, Blood Feud 2016); Sonera Angel (Roofied: A Double Dose 2018, The Graveyard Shift short 2018); Jon-Paul Gates (Haunted 2013, The Howling 2017); Anastasia Cane (Redcon-1 2018, Doll Cemetery 2019); Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers (The Howling 2017, The Conversation 2018); and Jimmy ‘The Bee’ Bennett (Where Thunder Reigns 2016, Blame short 2017).
The most important element of a film is its story—without a tale worth telling, you have nothing. Here, there is a fairly unique plot that blends historical fiction and urban legend to craft something that never feels entirely derivative or, worse yet, cheesy. While other recent films that utilize real life urban legends for their Horror purposes, such as Clinton Road, go for more of a witty approach, The Haunting of Borley Manor takes itself rather seriously. And considering the film was shot on a micro-budget of $15,000, with a cast of less than 20, it does indeed do a lot with very little.
Sure, there are some visual elements included that could, and probably should, be tossed out (those glowing red eyes, for example), and yes, the story itself could use some slight revision. While it never overstays its welcome, its pacing is skewed toward the third act where the bulk of the tale and its backstory truly unfolds and then is resolved within thirty minutes. Though with some editing The Haunting of Borley Manor has great promise—and some impressive acting.
The film opens to an excellently-crafted interaction between paranormal investigator Harry Price (Brown) and a woman named Marianne (Angel). The pair have a proper air about them, playing off one another perfectly and lending a sense of history to the film. And though the production never quite reaches that vintage, historical feel, visually speaking, this is certainly not due to its actors. Brown is phenomenal in his role as the polished paranormal investigator Price, and Angel is lovely as the compassionate Marianne. Similarly, Gates does a great job as the awkward German, Rudi.
However, Clifford, in the lead role of Robert, carries the bulk of the production on his strong shoulders. Perfectly able to encompass the varying nuances of his role—from injured soldier to empathic observer—he delivers an excellent performance in his role. Playing off his on-screen cohorts, his interactions with Pascoe are light and airy, while his conversations with Brown delve into much darker matters. There’s a seriousness to certain angles of his portrayal that lends an excellent believability to his on-screen interactions. For this, Lieutenant O’Neil becomes likeable, though he is inherently flawed.
Though The Haunting of Borley Manor dresses for success, its micro-budget prevents the film from ever achieving its full potential. Which is a common enough issue with indie releases, but here the cast and crew rise above, never hold back, and deliver performances worthy of a blockbuster.
A story of Borley Rectory and its infamous reputation, set during World War II, The Haunting of Borley Manor is a smart ghost story that aims for the stars. While it falls short, there are good intentions baked into its script and some impressive acting from its talented cast. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give The Haunting of Borley Manor 3 of 5 stars.