Séance is the kind of film that begs to be watched on a cool fall day. The kind of day with bad weather, where you just want to light your pumpkin scented candle, turn the lights low, and prepare to be spooked. If this sounds like a pretty basic fall activity, well, Séance is a fairly basic movie, but, it’s a fun one.
The film focuses on a catty group of girls at a prestigious private school. The girls summon the spirit of a former student who decades earlier had passed away at the school, and now supposedly haunts the hall. At exactly 3:13 am, the girls look in the mirror together and recite a chant, calling the ghost forth.
While this first séance of the film is actually just a prank, it results in the first death we’ll see on screen; pink cursive script gives us the film’s title over a girl’s dead body while peaceful music plays. After this student’s death, a new student, Camille (Suki Waterhouse), arrives at the school. Camille is straightforward and British, and the girls are mean to her in that way that only fictionalized high school girls can be (in real life, they’re so much more subtle).
The dynamic between these high school girls isn’t anything new. We’ve got Camille, the new girl, and Helina (Ella-Rae Smith), as the girl who sticks up for her. Of course, we also have the ringleader of the mean girls, Alice (Inanna Sarkis). There’s also the super-serious smart girl Bethany (Madisen Beaty), and the crew is rounded out by a couple less-important students. These aren’t well-rounded characters, and we don’t really know anything about their back stories. Just because we’ve seen this exact sort of dynamic before doesn’t make it any less fun to watch, though.
Much like many other horror movies about teenagers, bad decisions and jump scares are par for the course (as are adults playing teenagers). The girls are forced to all get along together, and, for no good reason at all (teenagers, right?) they perform another séance. After this, the film starts to get a little darker as the girls go into detective mode to try to figure out what the hell is going on.
The basis of Séance, while familiar, is enjoyable, as long as you don’t mind the clichéd aspects of it. The film starts out strong as we get acquainted with our cast of characters and the supernatural mystery that they’ve set out to solve. Supernatural films are often either intentionally vague to leave us questioning what’s psychological and what’s real, or, it turns out that there’s a realistic answer grounding the story. It’s not very clear until right up near the end of the film which camp Séance will fall into.
There’s little about Séance that could be considered psychological horror, despite the strong sense of mystery. It’s much more like a slasher film, as girls mysteriously disappear or die. At just over an hour and a half long, Séance maintains a steady pace as Camille and Helina try to figure out what’s going on. Had the movie been any longer, it likely would not have managed to keep the audience’s attention.
While the premise, the characters, and much of the acting are unsurprising, the film does deliver a good twist near the end. Maybe you were able to predict it, maybe not — it’s the kind of twist where if you decide to rewatch the film, you’ll see hints all along. Séance also has an excellent soundtrack and some neat sound design that adds a touch of heart to this fairly cookie-cutter film. While some may take issue with the basic-ness of Séance, I found it to be a welcome addition to my spooky season viewings this year.
Seance comes to Shudder September 29
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