SEANCE movie poster | ©2021 RLJE Films/Shudder

SEANCE movie poster | ©2021 RLJE Films/Shudder

Rating: R
Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Ella-Rae Smith, Madisen Beaty, Inanna Sarkis, Seamus Patterson, Stephanie Sy, Djouliet Amara, Jade Michael, Megan Best, Marina Stephenson Kerr
Writer: Simon Barrett
Director: Simon Barrett
Distributor: RLJE Films/Shudder
Release Date: May 21, 2021

SÉANCE is a twisty, fun horror film set at an all-girls prep school. At first, it seems to be dealing in one set of staples, then in another, and then – well, part of the enjoyment here is in guessing the explanations before they’re revealed.

At the prestigious Edelvine Academy, everyone has heard the story of the Edelvine Ghost. Years earlier, a student was found dead in the school bathroom, having slit her wrists.

Alice (Inanna Sarkis), leader of the meanest clique in the seniors’ group, arranges a séance in the bathroom at what is said to be the time of night when the deceased student’s heart stopped beating.

The school legend goes that, if a ritual is performed, the ghost will appear and kill her summoners. As one character later observes, no one knew if this was true or not because “nobody would be stupid enough to … oh.”

Skeptic Kerrie (Megan Best) is annoyed by the whole business. She retreats to her room – and then is heard screaming. When her classmates rush into her room, it appears that she has leapt to her death from the window – or did the ghost kill her?

Whatever has happened, Kerrie’s death leaves an opening in the school roster. Enter top-of-the-waiting-list senior Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse).

This is where we start to feel that Simon Barrett, an experienced horror screenwriter making his full-length feature directorial debut, has something new to offer. Suffice to say that Camille is unlike most new girl/final girl leads in the genre. We’re completely on Camille’s side, but we fear less for her and more for anything or anyone who imagines her to be an easy target.

There’s a lot of pleasing subgenre zigzagging in SÉANCE. We get improvised Ouija boards, a theatre department, ballet (shades of SUSPIRIA), academic intrigue, and multiple back stories.

It doesn’t entirely matter how quickly we deduce what may be coming next, because there’s always another wrinkle after that. Waterhouse gives a powerful performance, and she gets adept support from the rest of the cast.

Barrett knows where – and where not – to put the camera. Gore gags are brief, but effective. For those with proper audio equipment, or even respectable headphones, there’s also uncommonly good directional sound on the production. If something is meant to be moving on our left, that’s where we’ll hear it, versus having it all around.

SÉANCE is the kind of horror movie that honors its predecessors, but still finds something novel to do with itself. It leaves viewers in good spirits.

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