After watching the opening minutes of The Enfield Haunting, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that the mini-series was something produced in the vein of American Horror Story to capitalise on it’s success, complete with it’s own watered down version of the show’s manic and grotesque opening titles. Yet, once passed, it’s evident that more is shared with a slow burning show like The Killing, rather than the twisted horror fantasies concocted by the mind of Ryan Murphy. That may very well be because of director Kristoffer Nyholm, who directed a good portion of original Danish version of The Killing’s first and second seasons, and has clearly employed a similar tact of story telling here.
Based on a “true story”, the mini-series follows the Hodgson family: a single mother (Rosie Cavaliero) and her children living in council housing, who, after series of strange occurrences, find that they are plagued by a poltergeist. The spirit, in particular, attaches itself to eleven-year-old Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) with some fairly violent consequences, although mostly occurring when she is alone. They soon gain aid from Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall), a man associated with the Society for Psychical Research, who only recently lost his own daughter in a set of tragic circumstances and becomes emotionally attached to Janet, and Guy Playfair (Matthew Macfadyen), a skeptic expert on paranormal activities, who at times seems more interested in the story than helping the family.
The real highlight of the series is Worthington-Cox (Maleficent), who is particularly captivating with her mostly understated performance and has a truly unnerving quality. Spall (The King’s Speech) also delivers a rather superb turn as a man consumed with grief, along with Juliet Stevenson (Atlantis) as his wife, with the two’s heartbreak at the loss of their daughter becoming the emotional core of the story.
What’s most interesting of this haunting tale, and what separates it from other entries in the genre, is its situation within the most mundane setting. Nyholm perfectly paints a dreary 1970’s London that creates an odd juxtaposition between the ordinary life of the Hodgson’s and the supernatural, which creates a lingering sense of dread. If anything, the ghostly goings on become more of a nuisance than anything for the family, and even when the scares become slightly more Hollywood-ized than necessary, there’s an obvious intent to keep the narrative grounded and character focused.
Surprisingly, the film avoids leaving the ghostly interactions to only the children, and reveals itself to the adults early on, avoiding the standard ‘unbelieving parent’ trope. While it never reaches levels of horrifying scares, there are a few frightening moments spread throughout the three episodes that most will find unsettling. The film does fall into a rather tiresome pattern though of introducing other parties, like experts and mediums, that all go through the same motions of being unbelievers before ultimately witnessing the events for themselves.
In saying that, the film is co-written by Guy Lyon Playfair, who bases the events off of his own experiences of the haunting and his book, This House is Haunted. The actual haunting received much more cynicism, as most of the reported events were witnessed only by the girls when they were alone resulting in theories that it was nothing more than a hoax, especially after it was discovered that some of the incidents had been orchestrated by them for reporters. While the film does touch on these public accusations briefly, there’s the underlying notion that the film is less concerned with objectively presenting the events in a factual manner and is instead solely motivated by wanting to deliver a supernatural horror.