Seance marks the debut of Simon Barrett as a director, but not as a writer. In that capacity, he’s had a successful career dating back to a pair of 2004’s more enjoyable films, Dead Birds and Frankenfish. He’s probably best known though for the five feature films he wrote for director Adam Wingard including You’re Next and The Guest. Now that he’s moved on to megabudget films, can Barrett fill his former collaborator’s place?
Alice (Inanna Sarkis, Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, Deported), Bethany (Madisen Beaty, The Clovehitch Killer, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood) and their friends perform the ritual to summon their school’s alleged ghost as a prank on some of the other girls in their dorm. It ends, however, with the very real death of one of the girls.
This creates an opening for a new student at the ultra-prestigious Edelvine Academy for Girls. Camille (Suki Waterhouse, Future World, The Bad Batch) is more than happy to fill that vacancy. Even immediately getting on the wrong side of Alice and her pack of mean girls doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm. But a murderous spirit might.
Suspiria is the most famous of films set in an all girl’s boarding school. And Seance even features a pair of ballet scenes as a nod to it. But they’ve been the settings for horror films from Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory on through Satan’s School for Girls and The Woods.
Barrett jumps right into the traditions with cliques, bitchy girls and a bit of brawling to make it clear this isn’t going to be an elevated horror film. And it isn’t, it’s a hybrid ghost story/slasher that kicks into gear after another attempted prank, a seance to talk to Kerrie (Megan Best), the girl who just died, really does seem to reach something.
Shortly after, Lenora (Jade Michael, Hunter, Hunter) disappears, and a strange symbol is left on her bed. The girls know she wouldn’t just leave, and we know she’s dead.
Once the bodies start dropping Seance becomes a highly entertaining film. Just like he does with the film’s setup, Barett gives a nod to genre traditions like the icy headmistress whose son Trevor (Seamus Patterson, Channel Zero, Books of Blood) seems to be the only male on campus. Or there being one student our heroine can trust, in this case, Helina (Ella-Rae Smith, Into the Badlands). It’s just enough to keep the plot feeling familiar enough that you don’t expect it when he throws a curve at you.
I have long wanted to make my own variation of this horror-mystery narrative, but with the added goal of weaving in supernatural elements, as ghost stories tend to be murder mysteries as well.Simon Barrett director of Seance
And that curve would be the last act. Seance takes the kind of twist that I usually would have hated and pulls it off. It also tosses in a few others for good measure to go out with a bloody satisfying bang. It did leave me with one big question, and you’ll probably have it too. But it’s an annoyance, not a deal-breaker.
Seance saves most of its blood for the final act, but it does have a couple of messy deaths done without CGI. Still since it was rated “R” for bloody horror violence I was expecting a bit more gore.
The only other problem of any note is that apart from Camille and Helina there’s not a lot in the way of likable characters. And even Camille seems a bit off at times. Alice, Bethany and their crew are one dimensional bitches that you just want dead which takes some of the edge off their deaths.
Apart from that Seance is a highly enjoyable film that kept me entertained and caught me off guard a couple of times. Hopefully, Barrett will continue directing, he certainly has a talent for it.
A joint release between RJLE Films and Shudder, Seance will be released in theatres, digitally, and On-Demand on May 21st. It will be available to stream on Shudder later in the year. You can check the RLJE and Shudder Facebook pages for announcements of a date.