Eleanor Worthington Cox, Fern Deacon, Ghosts, Guy Lyon Playfair, Horror, Janet Hodgson, London, Matthew Macfadyen, Maurice Grosse, Monsters, Poltergeist, Rosie Cavaliero, Television, Terror, The Enfield Haunting, The Ring, Timothy Spall, TV
The first moment of this three-part series had me quaking in my boots. I’m not easy to scare, but if something builds the right atmosphere I’m quick to feel uncomfortable, and when I’m uncomfortable my mind begins to wander to places that it shouldn’t. That’s what this episode got so right from the outset. The tension was palpable as the camera panned through dark rooms lit only by moonlight, and the voice of a young girl narrated a tale of horror which would no doubt be a pale reflection of her own. It made me feel very uncomfortable, so that it didn’t matter if the story she was telling was clichéd or obvious; I was frightened, and from that point onwards I was at the mercy of my television.
“The Enfield Haunting” revolves around a family in London who are being visited by a very unfriendly poltergeist. The poltergeist takes an interest in the youngest daughter of Mrs Hodgson (Rosie Cavaliero), Janet (Eleanor Worthington Cox), and from there on out things get very scary very quickly.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about watching this episode was the fact that it was based on “true events”. Those small white words at the bottom of the screen carry so much significance for a story like this; they make everything seem more possible, more likely, more real. They make you wonder if what you see on your screen could really come and get you as you sleep – if that thing that goes bump in the night is a monster at your door, or just another leaky pipe. Doubt is a writer’s greatest tool and most difficult obstacle when constructing a story such as this; the writer must make his audience suspend their disbelief, shedding the doubts they might’ve had about ghosts, goblins and ghouls. He must captivate his audience with suspense, dread, and terror, and force the doubts they had about other-worldly beings to seep into the real world and become doubts about life itself. What was that noise downstairs? What is that shadow on my wall? Is that a face I see at my window or simply my mind playing a trick?
“The Enfield Haunting” uses that doubt to its advantage, and the fact that it’s based on true events, however loosely that connection may be (I don’t have the guts to find out!), makes it all the more terrifying.
Having already mentioned the series’ wonderful opening sequence, I’d also like to praise a couple of the scenes which immediately followed it. The first of these was the scene in which Margaret Hodgson (Fern Deacon) got her period. This was an initially scary moment, because the origin of the blood was unclear, and I was expecting something far worse to happen to the children. The way that the two girls reacted with fear and confusion, particularly Janet, was really quite clever on the part of the writers, because it encapsulated the feeling that the audience would have for the rest of the episode. With these types of shows we always want to know what’s about to happen, lest we leave ourselves open to jump scares and nightmares, so to have blood immediately present and have the two girls react with fear kept the tension high, whilst letting the audience know that things weren’t going to go off just yet.
This scene also captured the feeling of vulnerability that the main character, Janet (although she’s one of many important characters on this series), would be feeling for the rest of the episode, and thrust that feeling right back onto the viewer. It was a moment of relief as the tale being told had ended and the possibility of a jump scare had passed, but it was also one of unease, because it was a disturbing scene which promised much for the more fearsome moments to come.
The second scene from the beginning of the episode that really got me was the one in which Mrs Hodgson pointed out the red crayon markings which had graffitied the walls of the house. This scene provided a feeling which is distinctive of the horror genre, in which you know that something strange is going on, but no one on screen is any the wiser. It’s these type of scenes that get bums on the edges of seats, and have your heart going that little bit faster, so that when the time comes for a real scare you’re already half way to being bowled over. All in all, the opening was extremely strong and brilliantly formulated.
From that point the episode slowed down slightly (which was necessary because we don’t want people to be having heart attacks), as Timothy Spall’s character, Maurice Grosse, was introduced and the tone was set for the rest of the episode. It was quickly made clear to everyone that the house was very much haunted, including Grosse, who was initially sceptical – now we needed to know why, how, and by what.
The first episode used jump scares effectively, and because of the atmosphere it had built up, these visceral moments never really felt shoehorned in or obligatory. They were there to keep the audience’s attention, and also to signal a short break in tension as the character’s settled down following something horrible. The first jump scare was truly horrific, mostly because it was unexpected. It was obvious that something was going to happen, but I didn’t expect that it would happen as it did, because it seemed more likely that something out of this world would be doing the damage, rather than a person – I was perhaps a little bit too settled in thinking that what we’d see would be some devilish creature, because of the trend that’s so prevalent in horror films right now, so I wasn’t ready for an angry old man to growl at me.
The performances in the first episode were genuinely good, and the chemistry between the two young actresses from the first moment was outstanding. Timothy Spall did well to bring a sense of sympathy to the situation, giving Janet someone to rely on, because for some reason nobody else seemed all too concerned with her wellbeing. He also had the difficult job of delivering a lot of exposition through his dialogue, which he did well, because it never really took me out of the episode (which was also due to the wonderful tone that was set early on).
The addition of the second reporter/writer, Guy Lyon Playfair (Matthew Macfadyen), was quickly utilised to churn out some background information on the two boys in the family, which was clever because most people wouldn’t realise that this was going on, as they’d be trying to get to grips with who the newly introduced character was and what his intentions were. Again, this didn’t take me out of the episode, so it was another intelligent move on the part of the writers.
Playfair’s disbelief regarding the strange happenings in the Hodgson household was slightly frustrating, because we’d all seen crazy things happening, and he was a bit of an artificial antagonist for his first ten minutes on screen. However, he did become a bit more believable as the episode progressed, and by the end he was much more likeable, because having been flung across the room he was a little less unsure of what was going on.
One problem I had with the first episode was that sometimes the reactions of the characters felt a bit odd, although I don’t think anyone would act ‘normally’ in such a bizarre and frightening situation. It seemed like the characters were a little bit too comfortable with being alone in their rooms, given everything that was going on, when surely in reality you’d almost be too scared to function. I was almost too scared to move just watching it! I also think that if I was Timothy Spall I would’ve found a nice hotel somewhere in the vicinity, because once that kettle smashed there would’ve been no chance of me staying in the house. However, I know that it’s based on a true story and his character was present at the house, so maybe that’s an unfair criticism – it’s hard to question the realism of a story which begins by stating that it’s based on true events!
The first episode of “The Enfield Haunting” was pretty fantastic, all things considered. It’s so rare for the horror genre to be treated with the respect it deserves, whether it be on television or on the big screen, because so often it seems like writers and directors are desperate to throw jump scare after jump scare at their audience, confusing shock with fear. What this first episode did so well was to create a palpable feeling of dread through its lack of sound and bleak colour scheme, something that great horror films like “The Ring” have utilised to great effect. This feeling, on top of the fact that the story is based on true events, made the episode genuinely frightening, and this was only added to by the more than adequate performances of Timothy Spall and Eleanor Worthington Cox. It is more than worthy of your time, and if you haven’t watched it yet you definitely should – just remember to leave the lights on!