Over the last few years, veteran writer Simon Barrett brought genre-fans such films as Dead Birds, You’re Next, and two segments in the V/H/S series, all of which securely placed him well into the realm of horror. However, when Barrett expands his resume to include a directorial debut for the feature-length film SEANCE, the results prove underwhelming. Coming to Blu-ray on August 3rd, Barrett touches on quite a few horror mainstays with his setting and story development, and he does well with creating unfamiliar sensations in everyday locations, but when piecing all the parts together SEANCE’s plot holes and lack of imagination disrupt the natural story-telling abilities Barrett obviously possesses.
Using a familiar set-up and setting, a group of teenage girls at a private (and old) academy wait in the dorm bathroom for 3:13 am to hit with the intention of making contact with the Edelvine ghost. The story passed down from girl to girl tells of a depressed student who cut her wrist in this very bathroom. Alice (Inanna Sarkis), the clear leader of the group, regales the group with a retelling of the suicide of the former student. As the candle flames bouncing off the tiled surface of the restroom and a bathtub filled with blood, Barrett creates some eerie visuals, especially when a mysterious figure slowly emerges from the tub. The tension of the set-up causes Kerrie (Megan Best) the meekest of the girls to flee from the bathroom. With some snorts of derision, Alice reveals her elaborate prank to her frenemies, but not in time to keep Kerrie from falling to her death.
With the tragic exit of a schoolgirl, an opening becomes available in the rigorous academic academy, so Camille (Suki Waterhouse) joins the cliquish student body. Not only does the new girl take Kerrie’s place in the dorms, but she also replaces the dead girl as the target of Alice’s gang and their abuse. Because at Edelvine, jokes kill. And get you detention. And even though the girls at the academy like to play tough, Camille actually possesses a toughness that does not come from years of preparatory schools and privilege. After an altercation in the study hall, Camille, her new friend Helina (Ella-Rae Smith), as well as Alice, and her four cronies must now all work in the school’s archives as punishment. A spooky setting in a dark basement? A haunting and unexplained death? Why not hold a séance to contact a friend who mysteriously died?
One aspect of the story that Barrett does well comes when the mean girls once again try to prank others and accidentally summon a real baddie. Séance sequences can easily fall into the territory of hokey and over-exaggerated, but SEANCE manages to stay on the good side of conjuring scenes. Receiving messages from the dead starts out as a humorous way to punish Camille and Helina, but the joke results in an unseen entity who hunts and kills the other girls one-by-one. Curiously though, almost all the deaths occur off-screen with very limited amounts of gore. The lack of visible violence and high school storyline hints that Barrett intended the film for a younger audience, possibly with the hopes of targeting teenage girls. The film definitely has a lot to appeal to the high school horror crowd, but a stronger connection might have occurred if Barrett had cast actual teenagers not women close to 30 (or 40!).
For the younger crowd looking to build their physical collection of horror, the Blu-ray of SEANCE offers some behind-the-scenes content, which shows a high level of camaraderie and the detail-focused mind and collaborative approach the director takes towards the movie. These qualities make the director very endearing and paired with the interviews from the female cast, the extra features do try to connect with younger horror fans in an attempt to get more girls into horror. The deleted scenes don’t add anything of interest, but we do see a more playful side of Barrett and get a strong impression he is a great person to work for.
SEANCE tries to play with the supernatural and mysterious deaths, but the combination of horror cliches creates plot holes and an endless third act. Fans of physical media might enjoy the personal connection created in the special features but watch the streaming version of the movie before committing yourself to actually owning the film.
RLJE Films will release SEANCE on DVD and Blu-ray on August 3, 2021.