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Seance (2021) - Movie Review

Seance (2021) - Movie Review
8 10

PLOT: After a new girl arrives at a prestigious all-girls boarding school, the popular clique decides to do a bit of hazing by summoning their recently dead friend. To no one's surprise, things do not go well. Ya, no sh*t.

LOWDOWN: Simon Barrett is a sly and talented writer with some modern gems under his belt. You're Next is rightfully described as "The quintessential horror movie for millennials," while The Guest is a great indie thriller. Not to mention the underrated, if not a bit too late sequel, Blair Witch, that will get its day in court and be seen in a far better light eventually. Mr. Barrett is officially jumping into the director's chair for his first feature film, Seance. As I always try to keep things spoiler-free, this does mix a few subgenres, and I can't review Seance without mentioning some specifics. So, if you want to go in blind, walk away now. If not, pour a drink, turn off the lights, and settle in as we dig into Barrett's fantastic directorial debut with Seance (WATCH IT HERE).

Set at a very exclusive all-girls boarding school, the Edelvine Academy is populated by mean girls, tight social cliques, and some pretty dick-ish behavior. Many years ago, a student killed herself and, as the legend goes, haunts the Edelvine. Teens being teens, the main group decides to "Bloody Mary" their way into a ghost encounter only from them to accidentally cause the death of one of their own. After the passing of Kerrie (Megan Best), who was the unlucky participant in the cruel summoning hoax, a new vengeful ghost comes to haunt the academy. Enter Camille (Suki Waterhouse), taking the vacant spot left by Kerrie and immediately butt heads against the leading clique. Who is she, and what exactly is her purpose? We get a bit of mystery tossed in for good measure.

As writer and director, Barrett adds in many horror tropes primarily as an homage to others and, of course, a bit of modern deconstruction. We get the kind of sh*t that is pretty typical, like "Bloody Mary" summonings, dark hallways with flickering lights, and some out-of-focus ghost shenanigans in the background. If anything, Seance isn't the most original idea, but Barrett does bring his keen writing style and, springingly, a great director's eye to the project. Seance isn't scary; I mean, the scariest thing imaginable at my age is taxes and car trouble at this age, but it has a consistent unsettling tone throughout. Things always feel "off," and I can commend any movie that can keep me uncomfortable.

Alice (Inanna Sarkis) runs the school with her bitchy alpha attitude, loyal circle of friends and doesn't take kindly to Camille taking over her dead friend's spot. Where things take a more unique spin is in the handling of the final girl/protagonist Camille. She's mysterious, intelligent, and calculating. Like Erin (Sharni Vinson) from You're Next, Camille isn't a damsel in distress and seems like she may be the one you should fear and not the other way around. Her introduction stands as of the better in recent memory. Casually and unsuspectingly, she sits at the lunch table usually occupied by the lead group of girls, which doesn't go over well. Alice, being a boss-bitch, tosses a drink in her face. This causes Camille to stand up and clock her right in the f*cking face. Ha! Raise a glass because that is how you set up your main girl.

Seance is a genre-bender, and though it may use many safe horror tropes, Barretts' skill as a writer keeps everything somewhat fresh and on point. I couldn't guess where exactly things were headed and played against my expectations. Something I love here is that this is a ghost-revenge story, yet it's framed as a slasher. As a haunted school story, it has been done before, but Barrett skews it through the lens of a Giallo-inspired murder mystery. Even his style of directing and his ace of a DP Karim Hussain give Seance a dream-like vibe. In one of the best scenes, Yvonne (Stephanie Sy) is practicing ballet with the ghost just off-camera. It's a chaotic and intense shot that is both Raimi and Argento-inspired.

When it comes to a downside, I would say that a couple of things hinder the overall experience. Barrette uses a few too many gimmicks and well-worn genre staples that are well-intentioned but can come off tired at times. Things also take a little longer to get going. Not that it's a big issue, but it's only around the halfway mark where you start to see the story come into its own, and I can see that spoiling some goodwill. The first half does come off somewhat generic, but it's the setup for the second half where to payoff comes, and I hope most will stick through it because the payoff is fun and damn entertaining. Also, everyone here looks like they're in their early 30s. Not a real complaint, but it's funny still seeing people looking like my old ass playing "teens."

GORE: The red stuff is held back and shown in quick cuts for most of the runtime, but the last twenty minutes go full blood and gore. Trust me when I say that life is better for it.

BOTTOM LINE: Seance is atmospheric and dream-like. Filled to the brim with an uncomfortable aura, Barrett gives us a cool ghost story with the edge of a classic slasher. A stylish thriller that subverts expectations while also delivering on the promises made. Seance is a solid start for Barrett, and as a director, this shows us that he can walk the walk and talk the talk.

Seance Haunts Theaters, On Demand and Digital Friday, May 21st, 2021.

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