Review by Sean Boelman
Simon Barrett has written some really great horror films in the past, so it’s understandable why horror fans would be excited for his feature directorial debut. Seance starts off really strongly, but by the end, it becomes clear that it isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is, settling for a lot of B-horror tropes.
The movie follows a young woman who arrives at a prestigious private school after the death of a student as the school is stricken by a string of tragic occurrences. It’s ultimately a very convoluted approach to a story that isn’t that complex, with lots of red herrings and misdirections meant to throw the audience off but which really just draw the viewer out of the film.
For much of the first half, the movie is driven by the atmosphere more than anything else, with Barrett’s directorial style doing a lot of the heavy lifting in making the film entertaining. When it becomes more mystery-heavy heading towards the end, it’s a lot less satisfying if only because it is very predictable.
Visually, the movie is much stronger than a lot of B-movies, seemingly because of Barrett’s appreciation for the genre. The style feels like a wonderful throwback to horror classics and proves that Barrett is just as gifted behind the camera as he is behind the typewriter. And the kills, while brief, are impressively executed.
That said, in trying to juggle so many different elements, the film fails to fulfill one of the basic needs of the horror genre, and that is a strong message. It often feels like the movie was made more for the purpose of experimenting with style and tropes as opposed to being a cohesive and satisfying picture of its own.
The character development is one of the biggest weaknesses of Barrett’s script. The film follows this central group of girls, but all of them are depicted as pure archetypes. And in trying to force motivations into the final act, the movie completely fumbles anything that could be considered an interesting character arc.
Lead actress Suki Waterhouse basically carries this film on her back, delivering the only performance that is even somewhat subtle. Although the rest of the cast fits their roles well, they are all giving turns that feel over-the-top. This is particularly the case with Madisen Beatty, who is trying altogether too hard here.
Seance is a passable horror flick, one that is much more inspired than a majority of its peers, but it still has a lot of issues. Regardless, the demand for this type of movie is consistent, so it will find its audience.
Seance is now in theaters and on VOD.