The Enfield Poltergeist review – the most celebrated ghost story of all time comes flimsily to life
The most captivating ghost stories can capture our attention, regardless of whether we believe in ghosts. The Amityville Horror can be interpreted as a terrifying account of walls that bleed and vengeful spirits, or as a frightening cautionary tale about the destruction of a middle-class family by capitalism and the mistreatment of children. Is The Shining’s Overlook Hotel haunted by malevolent entities or is it a representation of the dangers of addiction? Is The Turn of the Screw a story about a wicked servant ghost or a commentary on the rejection of modern society in the early 1900s? The best ghost stories seamlessly blend elements of the supernatural and societal issues, with ghosts and socio-political allegories dancing in a spooky waltz through haunted houses, while the audience decides whether class conflicts or Satan are to blame.
The second layer of this Apple TV+ show may not be fully developed. If you do not believe in the literal existence of ghosts, there may not be much else for you to enjoy. The four-part documentary drama revisits the famous haunting of a modest family home in north London in 1977. Shortly after The Exorcist’s worldwide success, the house became the focus of media attention, with tabloids and investigators reporting on the terrorizing experiences of single mother Peggy and her daughters Margaret and Janet by a poltergeist. The ghost, who would throw furniture around, tried to possess Janet, which had eerie similarities to William Friedkin’s film. However, instead of a priest, paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse was called in. He was a kind and thorough researcher who seemed to have stumbled into this line of work. Although he passed away in 2006, we can hear him recall: “I contacted the Society for Psychical Research and asked for any good poltergeist cases. One day, they called me, but I had no idea how long I would be involved when I walked into that house.”
Jerry Rothwell, the creator of the series, supplements archival footage and interviews from journalists, paranormal experts, and the family with scenes recreated by actors from Grosse’s original audio tapes. These scenes were documented over the course of two years.
There is an excessive amount of information to go through, as Grosse once stated to the BBC with pride: “This could be the most remarkable case of the century, and in terms of documentation, it may be the most remarkable case of all time.” In addition, there are numerous agendas to sift through. The media is looking for a scandalous story. The family wants to assist and be viewed as genuine and truthful. The paranormal investigators are hoping to achieve a noteworthy scientific discovery in their field.
Experts in both conventional science and the supernatural are given equal respect, reflecting the sincerity of everyone’s beliefs at the time. Even a doctor who explains how to create ghostly voices with the vocal cords is considered as credible as one discussing the short duration of poltergeist activity in homes. Rothwell’s work is dignified and offers fresh perspectives on a case that has captivated haunted house enthusiasts for nearly five decades.
However, the series repeats the same error as the original investigators and fails to give adequate consideration to the young girls who were at the heart of the case. Margaret and Janet, now grown women, only appear towards the end of the programme, leading me to believe they had declined to be involved. When they do finally make an appearance, they recount being bullied at school and the strain of living in a supposedly haunted house constantly surrounded by investigators and large recording equipment. They also reveal how their situation was exacerbated by media labeling them as liars and the ongoing pressure to provide proof of the existence of the spirit world.
When looking back at recent events that are well-documented, there is an opportunity to view them through a modern perspective and gain a deeper understanding. However, the series falls short due to its failure to recognize the impact of mental health, confirmation bias, and societal pressures on young women and how these issues continue to affect their lives in adulthood.
With such intimate access to the people and material, the lack of interest in what lay beneath the surface is disappointing. The Enfield Poltergeist hints that what appears to be supernatural could be an all‑too-natural manifestation of the emotional turmoil that was happening in that house. If you don’t already believe in ghosts, it is unlikely to haunt you.