Written by: Matt Patti | September 28th, 2021
Seance (Simon Barrett, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Many people might associate the word “seance” with conjuring spirits, contacting evil demons, and self-inflicted paranormal trouble. But, at its core, a seance is simply a meeting in which people attempt to contact the dead. There are vast and varied reasons why people would perform such a ceremony. Perhaps they wish to contact a loved one to feel their presence one last time, or maybe they search for answers to mysteries only the deceased would know, or possibly they just do it for fun and to experience a thrill. But, in some instances, the reason for a seance is more serious. Such is the case in director Simon Barrett’s Seance, in which a group of girls attempt to reach a friend who passed away in order to save themselves from the same fate.
The film takes place at a prestigious all-girls school called Fairfield Academy. One night, six friends attempt to summon the school’s infamous ghost in a dark bathroom. Kerrie (Megan Best, Nobody), the most critical of the bunch, dismisses the legend. The next morning, Kerrie is found dead outside the dorms beneath her room, having seemingly fallen out the window. Shortly afterwards, determined and accomplished perspective student Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse, A Rainy Day in New York) arrives at the school as Kerrie’s replacement. Since the school’s admissions process is ultra-competitive and space is limited, Camille has no choice but to stay in the room that Kerrie once called her own. Unsurprisingly, Camille experiences strange phenomena in the room and believes it to be haunted. However, when tragedy strikes again, Camille and other girls at the school find themselves in more danger than they bargained for. On edge and beyond curious, Camille gathers with Kerrie’s old friends to perform a seance to see if Carrie can tell them anything about her death. Will Camille and the students at Fairfield Academy be able to solve the mystery and protect themselves?
Director Barrett succeeds at creating an unsettling atmosphere with the location of an old, castle-like school with outdated dorms serving as the perfect backdrop for a spooky urban legend. The color scheme fits the film perfectly, as most shots are very dark and consist of brown and gray tones. Unfortunately, though, at times this dedication to the color palette makes a few scenes difficult to fully see, especially in regard to the background of some shots. However, something that does shine brightly is our central character, Camille. It is clear right off the bat that Camille is not your typical “new girl” at school when she refuses to move after taking a popular girl’s seat at a lunch table. While many newcomers may be shy and afraid to meet new people, Camille is confident, cunning, and accepts no nonsense from anyone. She is very intelligent, crafty, and takes charge with ease. Her unique personality is a welcome breath of fresh air as compared to the common scared, cowering new girl who sits in the corner, and Waterhouse delivers a strong, exceptional performance.
Though Seance delivers a few solid scenes of suspense and some thrilling scares, it doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before in terms of its horror aspects. The film is ripe with common horror clichés throughout and very predictable at certain moments. The dialogue, also, aside from Camille’s lines, is often rigid and stale. The plot is compelling enough to hold interest, but some of the reveals at the end are unimpressive and easy to see coming. However, the ending does contain one specific twist that I found very creative and enjoyable.
Overall, Seance is held up by the intriguing character of Camille, the well-executed chilling atmosphere, and a captivating enough mystery that keeps the viewer’s attention until the somewhat lackluster reveal of what truly happened to Kerrie. Still, a separate reveal does pleasantly surprise and makes the film memorable. If you’re a genre fan and would like to see a film with a different, atypical strong female character along with an engaging mystery and perfect location for the plot, albeit with cookie-cutter horror elements, I believe you’ll enjoy this film, as did I.