Simon Barrett is responsible for writing some of the most entertaining horror scripts of the past decade with the wildly inventive You’re Next and The Guest. The scribe has typically found an intriguing way to turn genre conventions upside down, so it came as something of a disappointment when he did not quite succeed in reviving the dormant Blair Witch franchise a few years back. After some time away, Barrett has returned and this time taken to the director’s chair for the first time in his newest stab at the genre, Seance. The film is one that hints at several different avenues within the first few minutes as a group of boarding school girls gather in a bathroom to recite a ritual meant to invoke a ghostly spirit that perished on school grounds. What some of the girls do not know is that this is merely a silly prank intended to scare the more skittish amongst them, but when one girl runs away and ends up dead outside her window there are questions of whether or not the death was an accident. You may hope the answer is something surprising, but Barrett seems to have once again left much of his creativity at home in this rather pedestrian effort.
Upon the unfortunate death of Kerrie (Megan Best), the perpetually-waitlisted Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse, Assassination Nation) finds herself the beneficiary of a newly-opened slot at the Edelvine Academy for Girls. The stoic Camille has a healthy curiosity about what happened to Kerrie considering that she is also taking over the room where she fell to her death. She finds a fast kinship with her shy new pal Helina (Ella-Rae Smith), an old friend of Kerrie’s before she got sucked into the world of the “popular” (aka mean) girls at school: de facto leader Alice (Inanna Sarkis), Yvonne (Stephanie Sy), Lenora (Jade Michael), Bethany (Madisen Beaty), and Rosalind (Djouliet Amara). This gaggle of girls does not seem overly broken up about the death of their friend, and when they try to pull some of their mean-girl shenanigans with Camillle, she puts up more of a fight than they expect. A quick but brutal altercation lands the whole lot of them in detention where they shirk their responsibilities in favor of trying to contact Kerrie via a seance. While intended as another prank on Camille and Helina, all of the girls get thrown when they seemingly make a real connection to the spirit world.
Everyone has reason to be concerned, as one by one they begin to be picked off by some unknown figure. There are many things about this feature that do not quite work, but the biggest offender may be the lack of characterization given to each of our characters before they shuffle off this mortal coil. Each of the early victims do not really get a chance to stand out beyond their standard two-dimensional characteristics. They are either continually nasty (most of the girls), tragically fragile (Helina) or something quite indiscernible (Camille, the best character in the film). Even the few characters outside these girls fail to have much meat, such as the stern headmistress Mrs. Landry (Marina Stephenson Kerr) or her handyman son Trevor (Seamus Patterson). You do not really care about what happens to most of these characters, and there is even some disappointment in the unceremonious way most are dispatched. The film comes alive in the last twenty minutes, but it cannot survive on a strong finale alone.
Seance is not a bad film, it is just one that fails to impress due to its predictability. If you have an early inkling of who or what may be behind the killings, there is a very good chance you are right on the money. Barrett hits many of the most obvious hallmarks of the genre, and it does not appear to be in a way that is critiquing them – he just seems to have fallen victim to these traps. The cast do their best to do something with their roles, and Waterhouse really comes alive when the time is right. Once again, though, it comes back to the shortcomings in the script. Barrett seems to be staying too close to the elements that first made him such a desirable name in the horror genre, but there is not much substance beyond the more twisty elements. There are plot elements that feel shoehorned in for no good reason that makes an already heightened film seem unnecessarily unbelievable. He does an admirable job in his direction with this feature debut, but he is still not quite back on the innovative path that we hope he is able to return to before long.
The film debuts on Blu-Ray with a 1080p presentation in its original aspect ratio that mostly captures the film well. The movie itself has a muted color palette that does not consistently pop off the screen, but there is a great amount of detail and clarity. The splashes of blood that pop up, especially against the white snow, provide some impressive moments that bring with them a nice vibrancy. There is slight loss of detail in fast panning shots, but it is not pervasive throughout. For a movie that relies on darkness to build tension at various points, it is important to have deep black levels, which this thankfully does. Objects hold up pretty well in the shadows and retain their depth. There is no damage or digital noise detectable in this transfer. There are not very many moments that are going to jump off the screen, but this is a solid video presentation overall.
Seance comes to Blu-Ray with a commendable DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The movie does not provide the most intense workout, but the environmental sounds provide a very immersive atmosphere for the story. The low end of the track is especially active during moments of violence with a bit of wall shaking happening. The dialogue and sound effects are appropriately balanced with the score where nothing gets lost in the track. Surround channels get some nice activity during the nature scenes and with the creaky buildings during any lead up to a terrifying reveal. This track is quite powerful, and will be appreciated by horror fans who pick up this disc.
- Audio Commentary: Director Simon Barrett provides a fairly entertaining and informative commentary track in which he discusses the logo he fought for, shooting in Winnipeg, how his flops impacted his trajectory, the scenes he wishes he could reshoot, issues with weather, the process of editing this film and more.
- Behind the Scenes of Seance: An 18-minute piece in which a trio of cast members share some of their experiences on film including the group bonding, the inspirations for their characters, filming the death scenes and much more. The best parts about these interviews are the moments where the girls let their guard down a bit.
- Outtakes: A two-minute featurette which shows some flubbed takes and forgotten lines.
- Deleted Scenes: Six scenes totaling 6 minutes of unused material are provided here which shows some extended death scenes, provides an additional red herring and more. These six scenes are provided with optional audio commentary from director Simon Barrett.
- Decapitation Pre-Viz: A 20-second clip in which the gnarly decapitation is acted out with action figures.
- Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery: A collection of behind-the-scenes images are provided here.
Seance is a decently executed film that does not quite deliver on the promise of the talent involved. The film plays within the confines of the genre quite comfortably without making too much of an effort to break out from the ordinary. The performances are pretty solid throughout and the finale is a good bit of fun, but there is not enough here to make this one truly special. RLJE Films has released a Blu-Ray with a strong A/V presentation and a nice assortment of special features. Those who are a fan of Barrett’s may enjoy this one if they go in with the knowledge that this is not a top-tier effort.
Seance will be available to purchase on Blu-ray and DVD on August 3, 2021.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: RLJE Films has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.