Review: Séance (2021)

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Séance (2021)

Directed by: Simon Barrett | 88 minutes | horror | Actors: Suki Waterhouse, Madisen Beaty, Inanna Sarkis, Ella-Rae Smith, Stephanie Sy, Djouliet Amara, Jade Michael, Seamus Patterson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Megan Best, Cliff Sumter, Colleen Furlan, Leah Mitchell

Edelvine Academy is an elite boarding school where only girls are admitted. The demands are high, but it doesn’t make these brilliant schoolgirls exactly likeable. In the first scene we see how a group of girls, one even more beautiful than the other, want to scare each other during a nighttime ritual. Some years ago, a high school girl seems to have committed suicide in the shared bathroom. At the same spot, at the exact same time, the young ladies summon a ghost. And that works. Or at least, that’s what the creators of the ‘ritual’ want everyone else to believe.

After Kerrie, one of the students, runs hard to her room, the rest realize that it was “another prank”; they have been tricked and good too. A loud scream interrupts the giggling. “She’s trying to get back at us,” one of the girls snaps. But nothing turns out to be less true: poor Kerrie, who was so shocked before (and actually didn’t want to participate in this ritual) turns out to have fallen out of her window. She will not survive that fall. Suicide is the official name.

Not much later, Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) enrolls at Edelvine Academy. Thanks to her excellent school performance and talent for ballet (which is one of the requirements for admission), she can start halfway through the year. She has to take for granted that she gets the room of the deceased girl. It seems to be haunted… the electricity is out, and isn’t Kerrie’s ghost in the corner of the room?

Although the clique that more or less holds sway and who has to dance to the tune of the other students does not exactly welcome Camille with open arms, Camille also turns out not to be a kitten that should be handled without gloves. She bites hard and immediately comes to blows with Alice (Inanna Sarkis), the self-elected leader of the couple. In addition to a black eye for Camille (which is cool that she continues to use it throughout the film), this also immediately results in punishment for the entire group. Camille, meanwhile, manages to make a tentative friendship with the sweet-natured Helina (Ella-Rae Smith) (not a member of the clique), who claims to have been friends with Kerrie in the first year, until Kerrie joined the popular club. During the joint punishment imposed by the headmistress, the girls decide to summon a ghost once again. And then a member of the group disappears and people are killed… Is there actually a ghost in this boarding school or is there a serial killer at work?

‘Seance’ feels like a hodgepodge of many other films in the genre and beyond (not just ‘Urban Legend’, but also ‘Mean Girls’) and could easily have been released twenty years earlier. The film doesn’t really excel at anything, the acting is just so-so (it doesn’t help that almost thirty-somethings have to play teenagers) and even the camera work is a bit lacking. For some reason, the cameraman makes frequent use of the fisheye lens in overview shots, which causes the people in the frame to be slightly distorted. That serves no artistic purpose, but it is disturbing. And yet the film manages to maintain the full running time. That’s because the makers have kept the goal of this film in mind: to create an amusing horror film for the less experienced horror viewer. ‘Seance’ pretends to be no more than that. And as a bonus, there are still some gruesome and inventive murders in there. But you have to wait until the third act for that.

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