A teenage girl at a boarding school dies under mysterious circumstances. Soon after, a new girl, Camille, takes her spot at the school. After a group of popular girls convince Camille to perform a séance with them, someone or something starts to kill the girls one by one.
Seance is the feature-film directorial debut of acclaimed horror film writer, Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest). Also penning the screenplay, Barrett tells the story of Camille. This teenage girl is admitted into a remote all-girls boarding school after another student died. After Camille has an altercation with the popular girls and they all get detention, the girls all decide to pass the time by performing a séance. From that moment on, all the girls are in danger. They are being picked off one by one. Camille has to discover if these deaths are the work of the fabled ghost who is said to stalk the school’s halls, or is it a much more human killer at work. Barrett does a great job of capturing the cruel, vicious nature only teenage girls seem to have mastered, while also crafting an intriguing thriller that will keep you guessing.
One of the things I love about the plot of Seance is that it has a distinctly giallo feel to it. The killer, whether supernatural or human, is mostly shown in shadow. The only defining feature is an unsettling handmade mask. The plot also has many layers to the mystery. On the surface the film asks the question of what happened to the student who died under strange circumstances. From there the film has a snowball effect, adding more and more to the mystery. While not all questions are answered by the end of the film, much like in Italian giallo films, the audience is given enough answers to lead to a satisfying conclusion.
While I don’t buy any of the actors in Seance as teenagers, they still give compelling performances. Suki Waterhouse (The Bad Batch, Assassination Nation) stars as Camille. Waterhouse has a great, stoic sort of presence. It works quite well in this film, especially as the film progresses and Camille herself becomes more of a mystery. Ella-Rae Smith (The Stranger, Into the Badlands) plays Helina, another student and one of the few who are nice to Camille. Smith is also one of the only actors I could possibly believe is in high school. Helina is a sweet, endearing character who becomes fast friends with Camille. Audiences will no doubt love both of these characters and the connection they have. Some of the performances from the other girls in the group aren’t quite as strong, but they are still entertaining to watch.
Many of the artistic choices in this film are wonderful. Seance features a fantastic musical score and feels reminiscent of Italian horror scores of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s a great mix of eerie sounds, atmospheric melodies, and head-bopping beats. The mask used by the killer, who may or may not be of a ghostly nature, is pretty horrifying. It is light enough that it stands out in the shadows and it’s rough, homemade look only helps to make it more unsettling. The only visual aspect that detracts a bit from the overall appeal of the film is that certain shots appear to be done with a fisheye or wide angle lens. This is likely because the filmmakers wanted to include as much as possible in a single frame, but it distorts the image in a very noticeable way.
Seance is a reverse nesting doll, adding more to the mystery as the story goes, but still wrapped in a cohesive package. This might not be the most exciting or original story ever told by Barrett, but it is definitely entertaining and a strong directorial debut. Waterhouse is a delight, as always, and Smith is wonderful as well. The plot finds ways to add to the suspense and packs in quite a few surprises along the way. Add to that a memorable mask and a superb musical score, and the result is a modern day giallo film.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10