The Enfield Haunting is a 3 part TV mini series based on the book ‘This House is Haunted’ by Guy Lyon Playfair, one of the people involved in investigating the supposedly supernatural series of events that occurred in the late 1970’s in a house in Enfield, England.
First of all I am surprised it has taken this long for this story to be adapted into the mainstream media, especially considering the appetite of the general public to be scared out their boots. However the sequel to ‘The Conjuring’ released next year will help change that. For now we are treated to a British drama mini series of the same events, that turns out to be a decent watch.
‘The Enfield Haunting’ stars Timothy Spall as Maurice Gross, a grieving father and member of the SPR (Society for Psychical Research). Maurice is sent to investigate some strange occurrences at a house in Enfield. Upon arrival at the house he finds a single mother, with three children, who claim that objects have been moving of their own accord and strange noises are occurring throughout the house. The story soon becomes the subject of national press coverage and other members of the SPR become involved, including Guy Lyon Playfair, played by Matthew Macfadyen. As everybody begins to experience poltergeist activity, the search is on to figure out what is haunting the house, and how to get rid of it.
Of all genres that are benefiting from this boom in TV production, Horror appears to be the one experiencing the greatest success. Not necessarily always in terms of viewers but in overall quality and even more surprisingly consistency. Prior to this golden age of television most Horror TV shows were attempts to cash in on popular film franchises, such as ‘Poltergeist: The Legacy’, ‘Freddy’s Nightmares’ & ‘Friday the 13th: The Series’. Usually they lacked in quality. Now we have success stories like ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Hannibal’ leading the way for Horror television. ‘The Enfield Haunting’ I feel, fits alongside those other shows in bringing an interesting, quality television programme to the small screen, though for reasons other than Horror.
Those expecting a jumpy ride through this mini-series are likely to be disappointed as its strengths are not in it’s scares or horror. Maybe I’ve numbed myself to most scary things but there are very few moments in the show that will have you hiding behind a pillow. Objects moving, demonic voices and the occasional pop up scare are all that are on offer here, some of them work, most of them draw little reaction. It takes a real innovative director to use some of the most commonly seen tropes in horror and make them scary. That being said, the frights are not the shows only focus.
For those unfamiliar with The Enfield Poltergeist, despite being a well documented event there is a storm of suspicion and fraud that surrounds what occurred. Many of those involved had evidence of foul play by the children during the investigations that took place in the house. As a result, what this show bravely does is throw a little bit of water over the fire that this was a haunting, and shows you things that make you question the events themselves and how much of it was true. By doing this you are inevitably going to harm how scary the show is, regardless of how little doubt you cast over the occurrences. This tactic is a refreshing one and is seldom used well in films, ‘The Enfield Haunting’ just about gets away with it, but it flip flops between real and unreal a little too much to instil genuine fear in the show.
However, despite the lack of frightening scenes, the choice of casting doubt in the events allows the show to focus on something a lot more real than apparent poltergeist activity. It is something that has long been discussed when stories such as this arise, and that is the psychological state of those involved. Not just those who are afflicted by the happenings but those observing as well. Maurice Gross is a man who only joined the SPR because his daughter recently died in a motorcycle accident and he lacks closure, and Janet Hodgson, the daughter most affected by the apparent ghostly activity, had previously been traumatised by her father leaving.
When it comes to investigations around stories such as this in real life, there is always an element of the state of mind of those involved and this is what the show does well. It slows the pace a little, and takes you away from the juicy events but it rescues the show from being a generic ghost story. Though it does well in acknowledging that the people involved have their own motivations for the haunting, and why they are experiencing certain things, it could have spent more time delving into them. Instead they opt for, brief scenes and single lines to put the idea into your head, without digging a little deeper.
Where ‘The Enfield Haunting’ really shines though is its acting. Timothy Spall has come a long way since ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ and is quickly becoming a national acting treasure for Britain. Matthew Macfadyen also brings a solid game as Guy Lyon Playfair. Eleanor Worthington Cox is a revelation as the young Janet Hodgson and certainly has a bright future if she builds upon her work here.
Overall ‘The Enfield Haunting’ is one of the better British drama/horror shows out there, but it is most certainly more drama than horror. The only drawbacks are that it only teases ulterior motives to the haunting, skirting around the subject of doubt without getting it’s teeth into it, but as a 3 part mini series it is absolutely worth a watch.