May 27, 2021 Seance (Movie Review)
Suki Waterhouse makes the mistake of enrolling in a ghastly academy in Seance, which arrived to select theaters, as well as Digital and On Demand, on Friday, May 21, 2021 thanks to RLJE Films. Plans are underway to release the film on Shudder later this year.
The Teen Horror-Thriller marks the feature directorial debut of Simon Barrett, who previously wrote 2011’s You’re Next and 2012’s V/H/S, but tackles some very different material here. Aimed at those who are new to the genre, Seance centers around the Edelvine Academy for Girls—mean girls, that is. And ringleader Alice (Inanna Sarkis: After 2019, After We Collided 2020) and her squad of ghouls—sidekick Lenora (Jade Michael: Fatal Friend Request 2019, Hunter Hunter 2020), punk Rosalind (Djouliet Amara: Cheerleader Abduction TV movie 2020, Guilty Party series), brain Bethany (Madisen Beaty: The Clovehitch Killer 2018, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood 2019), haughty Yvonne (Stephanie Sy: Welcome to Sudden Death 2020, Nobody 2021) and hesitant Helina (Ella-Rae Smith: Into the Badlands series, The Stranger mini-series)—are intent upon making the new girl’s first day hell.
But the new girl, Camille (Waterhouse: The Bad Batch 2016, Assassination Nation 2018), shocks them all when she refuses to genuflect and instead fights back. A few bloodied lips later, the seven find themselves sentenced to detention by the school’s pinch-faced dean, Mrs. Landry (Marina Stephenson Kerr: Channel Zero series, The Grudge 2020). So what is a group of frenemies to do when trapped inside a dusty old library? Hold a séance, of course. As they spoonfeed Camille rumors of a haunting on campus, Alice’s sassy six decide to summon the spirit of their friend Kerrie (Megan Best: Channel Zero series, Nobody 2021), a former student who recently committed suicide.
Though the ritual appears to have been a success, the days afterward raise some troubling questions about the paranormal. And when one of the group mysteriously disappears, the others will be forced to ask themselves if they accidentally summoned something evil that should have been left on the other side.
There’s a certain expectation that comes along with being the writer on a genius morbid Horror-Comedy such as You’re Next. Sadly, to a large extent that pedigree does not follow Barrett into Seance, which, unlike the aforementioned, is not intended for anyone with a solid background in Horror. Aimed at novice tweens and teens, the story reeks of 1990’s Teen Horror coupled with the semi-recent obsession with prestigious academic settings. (Thank you, J.K. Rowling!)
To be fair, the film is amusing and it definitely has its moments, shining brightest in its third act. Sticking to a succinct 92 minutes, Barrett is careful not to allow his latest to overstay its welcome or to diminish any of its success by taxing the attention spans of its viewers. But it is the younger film-goers who are apt to get the most from this experience, one that draws heavy influence from a myriad of classics, notably 1996’s The Craft, 1997’s Scream 2 and 1998’s Urban Legend.
And it doesn’t hurt that its badass lead character, Camille, allows Waterhouse to pull literal punches and turn a largely predictable tale onto its head. Which, aside from the actual plot twist that makes for a satisfying conclusion, is one of the highlights of the film, where there is an important restructuring of typical tropes. In this female-ruled vehicle, only one male actor receives noteworthy screen time—Seamus Patterson (Guest of Honour 2019, Books of Blood 2020)—and his character is reduced to little more than a fumbling accessory. Given, this is a small thing, but it is an important one; a reflection of a shift within the genre to bold, brassy female leads who own the screen. We approve!
Still, Seance is very much a middle of the pack film. Neither tiresome nor exceptional, it establishes Barrett as a writer-director with obvious passion for the genre and someone who is happy to step outside of that box to toy with his audience. In this, by combining practical effects with jump-scares and creative new ways to die, he is certain to keep his younger viewers gasping and giggling.
There is, of course, no age limit for matriculation when it comes to Seance, a world of bratty mean girls with callous attitudes whose redemptive qualities, if they exist, lie somewhere in the gray. So break out the popcorn and some old school uniforms, because Cryptic Rock gives Seance 3.5 of 5 stars.