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  Seance Is There Anybody There?
Year: 2021
Director: Simon Barrett
Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Ella Rae-Smith, Innana Sarkis, Madisen Beaty, Stephanie Sy, Djouliet Amara, Jade Michael, Seamus Paterson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Megan Best, Cliff Sumter, Colleen Furlan
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alice (Innana Sarkis) is the queen bee of this private girls' school, and she has an interest in the supernatural currently fuelled by learning some time ago at the establishment one of the students died by her own hand. Therefore she likes to stage seances, as she is tonight for her main clique, in the communal bathroom where she attempts to conjure the spirit of the dead girl - and suddenly, after a few minutes of trying, the assembled are horrified to see a bloody hand emerge from the bathtub, with one girl running out in terror. But it is all a joke, and there's no ghost, not that the escapee had any idea of that; however, once in her room she feels she is not alone, and her friends in the bathroom hear her bloodcurdling scream...

Exit said girl through the window, and enter Suki Waterhouse as Camille who takes the place of the deceased at the school, much to the chagrin of Alice and her clique who no sooner has she met Camille than she is staging a fistfight with her in the common room. There is one pupil who is friendlier, and she is Helina (Ella Rae-Smith) who seems keen to be an ally, but as they are all sent to detention the mood is grim until Alice, something of a broken record, suggests they have another seance, a proper one this time, to try and contact their dead pal. However, it is becoming clearer as this progresses that Seance is a slasher flick, and the girls are here to be picked off one by one, possibly by a force that's paranormal: has Alice contacted something unspeakable from the other side?!

There is an answer to that by and by, though as noted this was more interested in the slasher movie potential of the premise, which may be why some found this effort something of a letdown. It was the brainchild of horror screenwriter Simon Barrett, who had had a hand in the writing of Adam Wingard films but had dabbled in direction which he appeared to be more serious about with this release. In premise, it was like something out of a British girls’ comic of the nineteen-seventies, like the cruelty of Mandy or the weirdness of Misty combined, for the girls' school was a popular location for many of their storylines. There were other signifiers too, such as the ballet class, or the mean girls ganging up on the heroine, all it really needed was a subplot involving a horse or pony to really dive straight into that vintage milieu, though there were differences too.

For a start, Camille can look after herself and doesn't take Alice's bullshit lying down, if anything she's the most proactive girl there, and that horror movie habit of casting performers in their twenties as teenagers was well to the fore, here apparently unironically despite Barrett surely being aware it would be called out in just about every review. One assumed he was casting whoever was best for the role, and Waterhouse, in her late twenties, contributed a humourless edge of steel to her character that may not have made her easy to warm to, but at least was unusual in this type of chiller. It did, on the other hand, make the late on lesbian romance that almost but not quite blooms somewhat unbelievable and you're suspicious it was a cynical move to be trendy seeing as how it goes nowhere and nothing of substance happens with it. Otherwise, they worked up a pleasing atmosphere of gloom and doom even if it did not all go the way some viewers would have wanted - you could do worse, despite a narrative uncertainty. Music by Tobias Vethake.

[Seance - Premieres 29 September 2021 on Shudder.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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