UK TV review: The Enfield Haunting (Episode 1)
Ivan Radford | On 03, May 2015
Hauntings, eh? They’re pretty scary. Especially the one inspired by that true story. So when Sky announced The Enfield Haunting, based on a real life haunting documented in 1977, it was hard not to react in a dubious manner: after all, these days, it can be hard to find a haunting movie not based on “real events”.
Our story follows the Hodgson family, who live in Enfield in 1977. They seem like a normal bunch, as the daughters stay up late at night to tell each other scary stories. But one day, strange things start to happen. Furniture moves. Noises go bang. Soon enough, paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall) turns up to find out what’s going on.
While he stays the night, the house faces an onslaught of increasingly big shocks: crockery moves, faces appear in photos and children scream. Kristoffer Nyholm, who worked on the first two seasons of The Killing, shoots it all with an efficient, low-key eye, focusing on practical effects to keep the shocks believable. (Period details are equally evocative, from Starsky & Hutch posters to the dated wallpaper.)
At the story’s centre, Timothy Spall is convincing as the supernatural sleuth, his wide eyes peering out over the top of his moustache. He’s swiftly joined by Guy Lyon Playfair (Matthew Macfadyen), who wrote the book from which the show is adapted. Initially promising to help, the skepticism hidden behind his sideburns eventually emerges, to the displeasure of Maurice. (Guy has much more luck with the kids: “You play fair with me,” he smiles at them with wonderfully despicable charisma, “and I’ll play fair with you.”)
While their interactions entertain, though, writer Joshua St Johnston teases out the most tension from the creepy conversations between 11 year old Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and Maurice. As the poltergeist activity centres increasingly on her, she quizzes him on his military past and personal history. Are the nosy questions just politeness from an innocent child? Or are they originating from something more sinister?
That growing suspicion, coupled with the relentless string of old-school frights, makes for a familiar, but surprisingly spine-tingling experience. You’ll jump in your seat at least once, if not twice. And that’s only the first hour, as Sky’s three-episode approach gives the series time to soak up the atmosphere. As our two male strangers begin to be united by their fear, we undergo the same, unnerving realisation: whatever our initial reaction might have been, this real story is truly scary stuff.
The Enfield Haunting is available on DVD and on pay-per-view VOD services, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, TalkTalk TV Store and Google Play.
Photo: Nick Briggs