WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A teenage girl, Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse), moves into an exclusive, all-girls boarding school when a spot opens up after the sudden death of one of the students, Kerrie (Megan Best). What really happened to Kerrie, though, and what does her death, ruled a suicide by the police, have to do with rumours of a ghost haunting the halls of the school? And is Camille doomed to suffer the same fate?
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
There's something incredibly misleading about the main poster for Seance. With its bright pink-purple title scrawled out above four teenage girls in school uniforms that look both bored and ready to kill, it's a poster that promises some teen-driven comedy horror in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Craft or Happy Death Day. What the film itself delivers, though, is nowhere near as much fun.
Despite the colourful, pop-art-like poster, Seance itself is a drab affair with a muted colour pallet, wooden performances, unlikeable characters, and a fairly pedestrian plot. It's also entirely lacking in scares and, even more, lacking in humour. It's not a bad movie, exactly, but it is one of the most lifeless, beige, and boring horror flicks I've seen in quite some time. Though, admittedly, it really doesn't help that I watched the terrific (if barely horror-ish) Happy Death Day 2U for the first time the night before.
Seance may be the directorial debut of Simon Barrett, but Barrett is an old hand at writing horror and psychological thrillers, with You're Next, The Gift, V/H/S and the Blair Witch remake topping a fairly long list of genre features and short films. Mind you, it's not exactly a stellar CV, but as a writer, he clearly knows the nuts and bolts of horror filmmaking. The script here is pretty poor, admittedly, as it fails to deliver a single memorable line of dialogue or a remotely interesting (let alone particularly sympathetic) character, but it is at least basically functional.
The real problem here is his direction – which is never something I like to point out in a first-time director (especially not one clearly working with more passion than money) but is, sadly, unavoidable in this case.
The film is shot with bland efficiency and not much else by cinematographer Karim Hussain, but Barrett doesn't exactly give him – or anyone else in the cast and crew - a ton to work with. Ostensibly, the film is a mystery that spends much of its time wrong-footing the audience even in terms of what kind of horror film it is, but the storytelling here is so shoddy that not only is it pretty easy to predict the film's many twists and turns, it is so ploddingly dull that it's hard to muster much enthusiasm either way.
Part of this is undoubtedly because of the lack of characters in whom to invest, all played by actors that do nothing – and perhaps can do nothing - to elevate the roles they've been given. Partly it's because the plot just isn't that interesting. And partly it's because the cheap "scares" are choreographed from a mile away by painfully obvious musical cues (though, actually, the soundtrack is otherwise one of the better parts of the film). Mostly, though, it's because there is something about the tone that Seance strikes that flattens everything into a muddy, lifeless mess.
The utter lack of humour, wry irony, or just basic sense of fun to be found anywhere in the film's mercifully short runtime would be excusable if the film fully committed to creating a haunting, foreboding, even plain creepy atmosphere or, alternatively, concentrated on racketing up the tension and white-knuckle scares, but it does none of this. It's not scary. It's not tense. It's not even atmospheric. It's not much of anything, really.
Ande that, right there, is its biggest problem. Horror is right up there with comedy as the most visceral of genres, and I normally react quite strongly to even its most uninspired entries. At its best, horror is a cathartic, even genuinely haunting experience that lingers long after the credits roll. Even when it's not at its best, it at least usually elicits some sort of emotion – sometimes basic thrills or gross-out fun but sometimes anger, frustration, even revulsion. At its worst, though, it can be incredibly tedious and boring. Seance would obviously fit neatly into the latter category, if only it were enough even to reach the emotional highs of tedium and boredom.
Seance isn't terrible, but it is sadly dead on arrival, and no amount of communions with the dead can bring it back.