As a screenwriter, Simon Barrett has put together some impressive credentials. Though it’s largely gone unseen, Barrett’s first writing credit, the supernatural western Dead Birds, was a decent little movie. Over the last decade, Barrett has collaborated with horror director Adam Wingard on You’re Next, The Guest, and Blair Witch. With Wingard branching off into big budget monster mayhem Godzilla vs Kong, Barrett finally moves behind the camera himself. At first glance, however, Barrett’s directorial debut, Séance, looks like an odd fit. On one hand, it sounds like generic teen horror. But the R-rating teases something more in line with his past work. Though critics weren’t too impressed, Shudder is giving horror fans another chance to check it out.
At the elite Edelvine Academy for Girls, the in-group clique plays a prank on a classmate that ends tragically. But the death of their peer doesn’t stop the girls from targeting a new student, Camille Meadows. No sooner than Camille has settled in and she runs afoul of her new peers. But when the students try to scare Camille with a séance channeling the Edelvine Ghost, they inadvertently set ghostly vengeance in motion.
Séance is Many Different Things, But Rarely More Than Just Watchable
Séance is something of a dog’s breakfast of a horror movie. It’s a lot of different things – teen horror, supernatural thriller, generic slasher – that never coalesce into anything particularly interesting. Straight out of the gate, Séance teases paranormal happenings and while it doesn’t discard the premise, writer and director Simon Barrett hardly puts much effort into it. Instead, Barrett throws some generic slasher bits into the mix alongside the kind teen horror that movies like The Craft did much better. Anyone who’s watched enough movies will be familiar with the premise of a new student arriving at a school and instantly running afoul of the in-group. Barrett tries to build some mystery, including a few red herrings here and there, which a forced twist instantly negates.
Straight out of the gate, Séance teases paranormal happenings and while it doesn’t discard the premise, writer and director Simon Barrett hardly puts much effort into it.
What’s instantly remarkable about Séance is just how unremarkable it feels. It’s never an unwatchable movie. To his credit, Barrett crafts a handful of decent jumps and there is something of atmosphere to the movie. And Tobias Vethake’s score adds a bit of an eccentric personality to the movie. But there’s still a perfunctory feel to everything that happens. As Séance creeps into its final act, Barrett increasingly leans into the movie’s R-rating. The thriller’s climax wouldn’t feel out of place in You’re Next or The Guest. Still it feels at odds with everything that proceeded it. Once the credits roll, audiences may also wonder why Barrett continues to cling to the movie’s supernatural elements.
Séance Doesn’t Invest Much Time In Its Own Characters
Perhaps there’s no better indictment of Séance than its cast and characters. No, there’s nothing wrong with any of the performances. All of the young cast members are perfectly fine. Of course, you likely won’t recognize any of the actors … and you may not remember any of them by the time the credits finish rolling. None of the blame lies with any of the performers. Most of the blame lies with Barrett’s screenplay. By and large, nearly the entire cast, particularly the in-group clique, are interchangeable. Audiences will struggle to remember who’s who. Even head ‘mean girl’ “Alice”, played by Inanna Sarkis, is remarkably bland.
By and large, nearly the entire cast, particularly the in-group clique, are interchangeable.
Only Suki Waterhouse and Ella Rae-Smith, playing Camille and Helena, stand out from the crowd. Neither has a lot with which to work. Barrett’s screenplay tries very hard to make Waterhouse’s ‘Camille’ the same resourceful, tough characters as Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. And it’s not that Waterhouse isn’t up to the task. Rather Séance invests little time in its own characters. Moreover, Séance forces Waterhouse to shoulder some of the movie’s dumber story bits. But Waterhouse and Rae-Smith’s chemistry with one another emerges as one of the best parts in the movie.
Séance – A Strange Amalgamation of Parts, An Unremarkable Whole
If your expectations are modest, Séance passes as a mostly watchable, ‘sort of’ teen horror movie. It’s not entirely clear what Barrett intended for his first directing gig. By the time the credits roll, the supernatural bits seem unnecessary and disconnected from the story following the movie’s twist. And the bloody finale feels like an out of leftfield detour from the earlier teen horror roots. What’s put up on the screen feels like bits of The Craft, Ouija, Urban Legend, and You’re Next stitched together. Too bad the final product is not nearly as interesting as what a movie with all those elements should have been.