'Seance' is proof that all these years Barrett’s been paying attention
Following the success of last year’s surprise smash-hit Host, it was inevitable that other films centered around seances would emerge. While horror veteran Simon Barrett’s new film, simply titled Seance, stands in the shadow of the former, it’s not just another (astral) plain adventure.
After writing some of the most innovative horror films of the past decade, Simon Barrett finally makes his directorial debut here. Between the film’s ominous aura to the numerous creative kills we see, not once does it feel like there’s a novice behind the camera though. Seance is proof that all these years Barrett’s been paying attention. While I don’t like everything that Barrett does here, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t done well.
The film revolves around a seance that sets into motion a series of mysterious deaths at a remote all-girls boarding school.
Despite sounding like a by-the-numbers supernatural horror film - and while it still is to a certain extent - there are a couple of creative twists that make it distinguish it from other similar works. Unfortunately, one of those twists is too reminiscent of one of Barrett’s other works, and fans will notice.
On the other hand I appreciated that there was never any down time. The film opens with both the titular seance and a death, and from that point on there is rarely a dull moment. For that, I think that even the most casual horror fans will find the film enjoyable and engaging.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Suki Waterhouse leads a cast of relative unknowns and, as always, she knocks it out of the park. In addition to being the most likeable character in the cast, she’s also the most interesting. She plays Camille, the school’s newest attendee after one of the students dies at the very beginning. Not long after she arrives though, we discover she’s not like the other girls at all. Not only is she not afraid of some of the lingering superstitions, but she’s not afraid to fight back either.
Conversely the main group of girls aside from Camille who, in the beginning, conduct the seance are all stereotypical mean girls. Because they do nothing but antagonize Camille, you kind of root for their deaths. However, the fact they’re all too dumb to stick togeter and get picked off one by one sucks out all of that satisfaction.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
I believe that most of the film’s effects are done practically, and the only reason I say “I believe” is because I couldn’t really tell. Not because they’re that good, but because we only get to see the blood and gore on full display during the film’s finale. In every death prior to that, we either see a close up of the area of the victim that was slashed or stabbed, or the body in the aftermath of the attack. The decision to wait until the end to deliver is an odd one on Barrett’s behalf as it just shows the audience how much they’ve missed out on.
Additionally, the entire school is the perfect spooky setting for a film like this; it’s even hinted that there are hidden corridors behind the walls! Personally, I think the film would have benefitted by using and exploring the setting more. However, like the horror, we rarely get a glimpse at it.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Without the synth score and sound design, Seance would feel like just another generic horror film. That’s how integral it is to the film’s tension and how effective it is. Even in some clearly predictable sequences and parts where you know death is imminent, the sound trains you to never let your guard down.
Seance isn’t perfect, but Simon Barrett’s willingness to remix some of horror’s most tired tropes is enough to eclipse the film’s flaws, while further establishing him as one of the boldest and brightest brains in the genre.
SEANCE is In Theaters and On Digital and On Demand May 21, 2021.