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Seance Review

May 18, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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Seance Review  

Directed by: Simon Barrett
Written by: Simon Barrett

Suki Waterhouse – Camille
Madisen Beaty – Bethany
Inanna Sarkis – Alice
Ella-Rae Smith – Helina
Stephanie Sy – Yvonne
Djouliet Amara – Rosalind
Jade Michael – Lenora
Seamus Patterson – Trevor Landry
Marina Stephenson-Kerr – Mrs. Landry
Megan Best – Kerrie

Running Time: 93 minutes
Not Rated.

Séance releases in theaters, on demand, and digital on May 21st

Simon Barrett is certainly a rising voice in horror filmmaking. Starting with 2013’s You’re Next, Barrett has been making a name for himself as a go-to guy when it comes to writing scripts for new spins on old tropes. He’s done it with home invasion in You’re Next, psychological thrillers in The Guest, and helped do something interesting with found footage and anthologies with the V/H/S/ films alongside his frequent collaborators Adam Wingard and the Radio Silence posse.

Unlike those collaborators, Barrett had yet to step behind the camera to take the director’s chair. That changes with Séance. RLJE and Shudder’s latest theatrical and digital release sees Barrett put his own spin on the mystery horror and slasher genres, with decidedly mixed but still relatively fun results.

After an opening which introduces us to the Edelvine Academy for Girls and several of our main characters while also revealing a shocking and tragic death, the film settles in on Camille (Waterhouse), a new student who enrolls at the elite private school in the wake of the opening left by said death. Camille is given a stern introduction by the school’s headmistress Mrs. Landry (Stephenson-Kerr) before she has an encounter with the mean girls clique.

That little group of would-be Regina Georges is led by Alice (Sarkis), a bully who we know is mean because she throws out casual slurs and starts a confrontation that ends with all those involved in detention. That includes Camille, Alice, kind bystander Helina (Smith), and Alice’s cronies Yvonne (Sy), Lenora (Michael), Bethany (Beaty) and Rosalind (Amara).

Stuck in the library for the duration of their punishment, the group decides to break out a ouija board to communicate with the school’s legendary ghost as well as the girl who just died – a friend to many of the girls, and something more to Helina. Predictably, the séance invites a malevolent force that begins to prey on the girls as secrets begin coming to light and not everyone is who they appear.

Based on that description, it would be easy to label Séance as a sort of supernatural Breakfast Club slasher film – and there’s something to that description. Barrett sought to create a supernatural twist on the mystery horror film that also serves as an homage to teen slashers, all of which is very quickly evident here.

If anything, the problem that at times, Barrett is too evident in his homages. The script has some interesting twists throughout, and there’s a definite 21st century spin on the whole ghost aspect. But the script, which is one of Barrett’s strengths most of the time, is a little paint by numbers in the details. That includes some shallow characterizations, some predictable plot twists, and some very dumb character decisions. Barrett hews closely enough to the bones of the slasher genre that it’s easy to see where a lot of things are going, which undermines the mystery.

Fortunately, the elements beyond what’s on the page work pretty well. That’s clearest when it comes to the cast. Suki Waterhouse is used to carrying the load for films that she’s far better than, having done this since Assassination Nation, if not sooner. She’s firmly within her element as Camille, commanding the screen and matching up well with her co-stars. The rest of the cast is less established, at least in terms of name value, but they all add a lot more to their characters than the plot gives them as they channel teenage girls quite effectively (even if it’s difficult to buy the then-27 year-old Waterhouse as anything approaching a teen).

Smith in particular is a standout as Helina, who gets the most to do thanks to her character’s budding relationship with Camille. This is the trickiest part of Barrett’s script, which is able to add enough depth to make it more than just titillation of private school girls making out. Waterhouse and Smith have strong chemistry and it adds weight to that subplot that otherwise would have been sorely lacking.

Barrett keeps this on a slow burn, building bit by bit except when it’s time for a jump scare. There are perhaps a few more of those than necessary, though they’re generally pretty effective and the kills that we see are nicely done. But it’s mostly careful in ramping up until a bonkers final act where all the secrets spill out and things get gnarly. For some this may come way too late for some, and still others won’t buy into everything that Barrett has set up here. It honestly doesn’t make much sense but thanks to Barrett’s manic energy and the cast’s willingness to go all out, it’s pretty fun.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Simon Barret's directorial debut Seance is an uneven and largely familiar take on mysteries and slahers, but it's one that finds strength in its cast. Suki Waterhouse leads a cast of capable performers who do their best to make the supernaturally-tinged mystery work, even if it's not as mysterious and certainly not as scary as it wants to be. Barrett is capable enough behind the camera and the third act is wild enough to make up for the slow build and imperfect tone mashup that precedes it. It may not be the best horror flick in recent memory by any stretch of the imagination, but it has its charms.

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Seance, Jeremy Thomas