Based on the true events in London, The Enfield Haunting is a miniseries that tells the chilling story of one family’s experience with an apparent poltergeist. The poltergeist seems mostly concerned with the family’s youngest daughter Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and the majority of the events involve only her. Psychic Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall) and Guy Playfair (Matthew Macfayden) are called in to investigate the bizarre goings-on, but will what they discover really be true evidence of supernatural activity or are they the victims of a hoax?
As this is a miniseries, the events in The Enfield Haunting play out in a particularly slow pace. If you’re used to the immediacy of Hollywood horror and 80 or 90-minute scarefests then you may find this a bit too much of a slow-burn. However, I believe that the true story works extremely well split over 3 episodes of 45 minutes and gives the audience plenty of time to get to know the characters and have a truly immersive experience with the Hodgson family’s haunting.
The first episode does well at laying out everything on the table. Within the first 30 minutes we are given an insight in to the dynamic of the family and there are plenty of subtle hints as to what the haunting could alternatively be, or what could be causing it. As with many supernatural horror and possession narratives from The Exorcist through to Poltergeist and even Insidious and the very recent Pay The Ghost, the family itself could hold the key to explaining the ghostly activity within this home. Right at the beginning we witness the older daughter starting her period, something which is typically tied to a possession. However, in this story the girl who is possessed is not the one entering adolescence. Instead, the supernatural activity could represent her frustration at not quite being a woman yet or could be a sign that she will be entering adolescence soon, too. If all that is just a ton of nonsense, perhaps it’s just the fact that Janet was playing hide and seek in a cemetery the night before, fell asleep on a grave and quite literally brought a spirit back with her.
The Enfield Haunting is great at creating a spooky atmosphere. The 1970s setting is entirely believable with plenty of browns, beiges and creams dominating the colour palette of every scene. Spookiness is conjured up in a simple manner; candlelight and darkness is used exquisitely to generate a sense of subtle and effective fear. There are some truly chilling scenes, particularly in the first episode, that will send shivers down your spine and leave you looking around the room in paranoid terror. Even the sillier moments that involve furniture moving around and the typical jump scares involving mirrors have an element of charming fright because of the period setting. There are countless amounts of horror tropes present within this haunting; from people being thrown against walls, the unexplainable tapes that don’t film key moments of activity and the calling in of a medium. However, they are used only briefly and it is clear that The Enfield Haunting refuses to succumb to cheesy scares and gimmicks, and chooses to rely mainly on underlying fear and suggestion to create its ghostly atmosphere.
To prevent itself from being taking itself too seriously, there is also a certain amount of welcome wit present in the script. As Janet, Eleanor Worthington-Cox is a real delight to watch. She may be only 13-years old, but she effortlessly places herself at the centre of the story and manages to portray a plausible and likeable little girl who is the victim of something really terrible. She is funny and sweet when necessary and, thanks to the knowing writers, does not spend the entire film wreaking havoc on her family like many annoying tales of poltergeists and ghosts may do. With a 135-minute runtime the series is able to realistically present this paranormal story and it really benefits and works as a longer tale. It means that we can witness more of Janet’s moments of normalcy, rather than just have her tied to a bed or chair for the entire show speaking Satan’s dark words backwards.
The rest of the cast are great, too. Timothy Spall plays a quietly heart-breaking character who is going through his own grief and family turmoil, using the poltergeist investigation as a means of escapism and a way to come to terms with the death of his own daughter, also called Janet. Do you reckon there’s an important decision in the two girls having the same name? This is another way the series shows that it is trying to cover a lot of bases; offering many different explanations, without really giving you a real answer at the end. As with the true story itself, we can never truly know what happened during this Enfield haunting, but this certainly offers a really fascinating, thoughtful and very creepy insight in to one of the widest known British horror stories ever documented.
The Enfield Haunting is an overall chilling and entertaining miniseries that is propelled forward by its strong, absorbing cast. It paints a ghastly picture of what one family claim to have gone through and is highly entertaining, surprising and unpredictable throughout. It will definitely be interesting to see how James Wan’s upcoming The Conjuring 2 handles the story; whether it will be able to cover as much as this, is highly doubtful. Nonetheless, The Enfield Haunting offers a nice taste of what could potentially come in 2016’s Conjuring sequel, and it has set a high bar for Wan and co. to reach.
Words: Jessy Williams