★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
The directorial debut from renowned screenwriter Simon Barrett treads familiar territory but is crafted with great affection for a few different horror subgenres.
Directed by Simon Barrett
Simon Barrett, known for writing such fright-fare films as You’re Next (2011), Blair Witch (2016), and The Guest (2014), makes his directorial debut with Seance (2021). The feature is a mash-up of nineties-style slasher whodunit, girls’ school horror, and supernatural thriller. The result is a fun, entertaining ride hampered by some predictability.
Seance opens with the mean girls of an exclusive academy performing a “Bloody Mary” style ritual that leads to the death of one of the participating students. This opens up a spot for a new student; that happens to be Camille (Suki Waterhouse), a British girl who takes no nonsense from Alice (Inanna Sarkis), Bethany (Madisen Beaty), and the rest of the mean girls. Their confrontations lead to detention time served together, during which they all hold a seance. Because seances, Ouija board sessions, and the like never turn out well in fear-fare flicks, the students start being killed off.
Interestingly, Barrett’s first turn at the helm sees him working with possibly the most predictable of his popular screenplays. Seance may be a nod to some of his favorite horror subgenres, but there is little in the way of new approaches or surprises to the common tropes of those movies. Along with the formulaic and foreseeable elements, however, the film does offer a few moments that have a payoff once the big reveals are made. Barrett does impress with his directorial style, though. His obvious love and deep knowledge of fear fare shines through, and he paces the suspense and proceedings well.
The ensemble cast members give solid turns, though the characters often fit into predictable molds — such as the outsider who befriends the new girl (Ella-Rae Smith as Hellina), the brainy girl (Beaty), the academy director’s son who works at the school (Seamus Patterson as Trevor) — and most aren’t very likeable, coming off as people who viewers likely can’t wait to see get theirs. Waterhouse is fine as the lead but doesn’t exude a huge amount of charisma.
Despite its shortcomings, Seance offers plenty of amusing, enjoyable scare fare, including a fantastic denouement in the third act. Barrett shows a great deal of promise as a director, and he throws in a few surprises among the more familiar components.
Seance, from RLJE Films and Shudder, is in theaters and On Digital and On Demand from May 21, 2021 .