Gather Around. We Must Call Forth EVIL For the Sake of Our Lives! “Seance” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

A practical joke in summoning a spirit sends one girl to die of mysterious circumstances at the isolated and elite all-girls boarding school of Edelvine Academy. At the top of the wait list is Camille Meadows who finds herself in mid-semester adversity with not only her studies but also the deceased girl’s group of browbeating friends as Camille replaces their friend’s now vacant opening. When another friend disappears and another dies in a freak accident, differences and quarrels are put aside before one of them becomes the next victim. The group conducts a seance to call their friend from beyond to discern whose taking them out one-by-one and the spirit’s cryptic response determined one thing evident, a killer, whether supernatural or real, will stop at nothing until every last one of them is dead.

In what feels like an extremely unquantifiable amount of time that has passed since the last high school teen slasher has graced our once beholding subgenre, “You’re Next” and “The Guest” screenwriter Simon Barrett ends up sneaking one into the fold before the grand fourth sequel release in the “Scream” series come mid-January 2022. “Seance” is the first feature length film directed by Barret who pens the supernatural slasher encrusted with snarky teenage melodrama agitated by a mysterious, unknown killer wreaking havoc upon the catfighting girls of Edelvine Academy. The adolescent cutthroat temperaments give way to actual throat cutting macabre in this whodunit thriller lessoned with a mix of the power of friendships and an attenuated lesbian aura presence throughout up until the very affirming finale in an allegorical show representing hiding in plain sight. The snowy and serene Manitoba-shot Canadian film is a production of HanWay Films (“The Guest”), Ingenious Media (“Unhinged”), and the Gothically-inclined Dark Castle Films (“Thirteen Ghosts”) with select producers Adam Wingard, who has a long his filmic history collaborating with Barret, Tomas Deckaj (“The Green Knight”), and Devan Towers (“Day of the Dead” television series).

For High School girls, all the actresses with the exception for Ella-Rae Smith are mid-to-late 20’s with lead actress Suki Waterhouse (“The Bad Batch,” “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies”) tipping the pendulum nipping at her 30s. However, Waterhouse and the others defy their actual corporal ages portraying teenagers in the throes of adolescent social clique.  Waterhouse plays the cool as a cucumber newcomer Camille to Edelvine Academy, befriending right off the bat with her personal Academy introductory host, a solitary Xanax-popper Helena (Smith).   Immediately, new girl Camille becomes public enemy number one with Edelvine’s most smug impractical prankers led by Alice played by Inanna Sarkis. On paper, Alice might have been the group’s ringleader, but the character doesn’t throw around a lot of power or is admired by followers, albeit Sarkis role permanency as the uptight and sarcastic bully or rad bad gal. Following Alice are ancillary player pieces to the group’s effort as a whole to be a thorn in Camille’ side just for being the unfortunate replacement of their dear dead friend. Between the brainy Bethany (Madison Beaty, “The Clovehitch Killer”) and the more elegant Yvonne (Stephanie Sy, “Tales from the Hood 3”) vie the potential right hands of Alice deduced from the dialogue and screen time hierarchy of their roles but they are definitely more interesting than Alice with a punch of flavor in the personalities, especially in Bethany who is built to be a master-whiz in conjuring up devilish pranks to play on her friends and enemies. Furthermore, there’s also the hint of pizzaz that is shamefully cut short and slidden under the radar with the last two in the coterie with the playgirl subtilties of Lenora (Jade Michael, “Fatal Friend Request”) and the unexplored suggestions of Roselind’s (Djouliet Amara, “Tales from the Hood 3”) sexuality, leaving their arcs unfulfilled. “Seance” cast fills out with “Books of Blood’s” Seamus Patterson in the single speaking male role in the entire film, “Cult of Chucky’s” Marina Stephenson Kerr as Edelvine’s firm-handed headmaster, and Megan Best playing the narrative’s lamented backbone of mysterious tragic circumstances.

Portions of where “Seance” flourishes are within the parameters of the teen slasher, a subgenre that lingers on into severe tedium much like the zombie films of the early 2010 decade. The late 90’s and well into the 2000s saw a slew (pun intended) of killer adolescent atrocities in film. Moviegoers were intrigued by the allusive masked killer that, for most of the time, had a palpable-to-satisfying twist ending after roughly 90 minutes of frantic chases, dooming nudity clauses, merciless kills, and one stupid decision to go back into that ominous house after another. Then, when 2010 came along – poof – teen slashers were now a thing of the past, literally. Attempts were poor renditions of previous successes, rehashes of the once was, and didn’t quite tickle the right places. Slowly and surely, the wheels are turning on a rejuvenation of a new generation and Simon Barrett’s “Seance” serves a prime candidate for admittance. Isolated in the stillness of a snow-covered all girl school sets the intended mood for a campus killer, the girls have a warring dynamic mended by a need to survival commonality, and the what or the who that is slaying them is well kept out of sight with misdirection cues to make audiences think they have it all figured out. Plus, the climatic finale has not one twist, but two in its full of blood and surprise double twist spectacular. “Seance’s” character development is one annoyingly flawed aspect that bends the elbow at the wrong angle at times is how characters wonder off alone having just filled their youthful, spongy minds with knowledge that something or someone malevolent is after them. “One friend is missing. My other friend has mysteriously died in an accident. The Ouija board spells out certain doom and gloom. Yet, I’m going to practice my recital routine alone on a dimlit stage with my noise cancelling headphones on,” says nobody ever. “Seance:” “hold my beer!

“Seance” is more than a teen slasher, it’s Simon Barrett’s genre-bending good time and this Shudder-streaming 93-minute horror from Edelvine Academy is coming to Blu-ray home video courtesy of Acorn Media International come January 17th. The Region B UK release, PAL encoded, BD25 is certified 18 for strong bloody violence and presents “Seance” in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Many of the scenes circulate through repeatedly – the snow-covered school, the drab hallways, the quaint rooms, and the bleak storage room – that don’t offer a ton of vivid aesthetics within a limited range, but quality-wise, there’s a dour, shadowy coating accompanying the coarsely, unpretentious realism. However, the fishbowl lens on certain scenes poorly captured smaller spaces, leaving already thin actresses looking anorexic, and for some reason, the decision to position the actresses shoulder-to-shoulder does antagonize that realism as those, who were mischievous back in the day and sent to the principal’s office, never sat right up against a fellow classmate. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has favorable qualities with a well diverse mix of ambience, a strong dialogue track, and a Sicker Man aka Tobias Vethake laying down a spectrum from brooding synth string pops, piano, and cello bass that stands out with profound poignancy to a lo-fi hip-hop beat and EDM noise of embroiled sounds. Special features include a commentary with Simon Barrett, a behind-the-scenes with select cast, minor outtakes, deleted scenes, a crude pre-production setup for the VFX decapitation scene, and a behind-the-scenes still gallery. “Seance” isn’t all Ouija boards and flickering candles as there’s more obscurity to the slasher than what meets the eye with its mania-driven motives and orientational undertones making this little-known film worth a look.

A Troubled Family’s EVIL Dynamic. “Kindred” reviewed! (IFC Midnight / Digital Screener)

When Ben and Charlotte declare a decision to move from the English countryside to Australia, Ben’s ardent mother, Margaret, refuses to let her son move away from his family and responsibility in overseeing the massive manor property that’s been in his family for generations.  Despite friction between mother and son, even after the unsuspected announcement of Charlotte with child, the young couple are eager to start their new lives abroad.  An accident causes the sudden death of Ben that takes a psychological toll on Charlotte.  Margaret, and Ben’s aim-to-please brother-in-law, abruptly move Charlotte into the grand manor home as she floats through grief, but their overwhelming generosity turns into obsession with her every move, corralling her to do what’s best for the unborn child with undue stress based off her own family’s mental history.  As Charlotte resists more against the family’s insistence she stay, the stronger their grip on her tightens. 

Sometimes, meeting your partner’s family can be uncomfortably standoffish.  In Joe Marcantonio’s psychological thriller “Kindred,” reticent of personal gain and admission of truth becomes a thick, abrasive wall of tension that crimps the fringes of family relations and mental instability.  The writer-director’s debut feature film hailing from the United Kingdom, releasing this November 6th, tampers with the control over one’s own body through the traumatized perception of a pregnant woman with predispositions on having children in the first place and on her dead boyfriend’s unusual family, coursing with unsettling mental and emotional warfare that’s already tipped in one side’s favor.  The 101 minute, English-made thriller is a co-production of Reiver Pictures and Serotonin Films in association with the makers of “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies,” Phil Hunt and Tom Harberd of Head Gear Films and Compton and Elliot Ross of UK based Kreo Films.

The players in this tumbling mix of disturbing cat and mouse antics are more or less confined to a skewed variation of an immediate family though none of characters are exactly blood relatives.  Neither Charlotte, Margaret, or Thomas share an smidgen of the same DNA, but have become entangled, in one way or another, into Margaret’s hampering incubator that shelter’s their distinct and varied, sometimes uncooperative, personalities.  Margaret is beholden to memory to her late son, Ben, and exposing Margaret’s egotistic manipulations so wonderfully subtle and true is Fiona Shaw of the “Harry Potter” saga in a role that isn’t so dissimilar to the blunt nastiness of her Aunt Petunia character, but renders a more fierce, enshrouding malice that’s less caricature.  The Irish born Shaw and “DunKirk’s” Jack Lowdon dance a beguiling routine of mother and son as Lowdon plays Margaret’s step-son, Thomas.  Thomas tends to Margaret’s every snippy whim, being a charming and gleaming host, and an overall nice guy, but deep in the recesses of our minds we know something is just not right with Thomas’s polished veneer that soon will explode with true intentions out of dormancy.  Yet, things might not be okay with our seeming heroine either in Charlotte.  Charlotte is very weary of Margaret and Thomas who indirectly, through her eyes, hold hostage the mother-to-be from fleeing the family now that the connection is broken with Ben’s death.  In her debut principle feature film performance, Tamara Lawrance’s Charlotte scribbles outside the lines that smudges the contours of perception reality, adding a complexity component to her character that may or may not being suffering from parental depression commingled with external stress that treats Charlotte like a child in herself.  Chloe Pirrie, Anton Lesser (“Game of Thrones”), and Edward Holcroft (“Vampire Academy”) round out “Kindred’s” strong supporting cast.

Marcantonio’s “Kindred” splits the focal point of isolating tension, dividing the source into two distinct paths from the point of a view of the self-protective besieged.  In one hand, the pregnant and mentally vulnerable Charlotte experiences apprehension of being forcibly, and manipulatively, instructed by Margaret and Thomas to do what’s best for the baby…Ben’s baby.  Having never seen eye-to-eye or felt comfortable around Ben’s instable mother and peculiar brother-in-law, Charlotte has no Ben as a buffer against their coarse personas, overpowering her as a tag-team of self-interest, but most of everything Charlotte experiences is filtered by past judgements about them.  Alternatively, Margaret, Thomas, and even her boyfriend Ben, note directly to Charlotte her mother’s history with postpartum depression.  The undercurrent theory that it produces brings an under the table perception of how audiences will then try to solve Charlotte’s predicamental puzzle.  On the surface level, Charlotte is being held captive and drugged by her late boyfriend’s estranged family; obscurely, Charlotte’s terror is manifested by a loathed family lineage of mental illness and when your observations goes in one direction per the mind’s pre-wired setup, but all the evidence points to the contradiction, audiences will begin to empathize more closely to the harrowing experiences, through childlike control, of an unstable mind on the brink of a break.  Marcantionio very clearly makes things unclear of an in-between reality that challenges not only audiences, but also Charlotte, on what’s real and not real of the mind’s emphasis.  However, not everything is teed up perfectly as some of the abstract visuals, i.e. Charlotte’s dreams of ravens and horses, fall more into the rigors of psychological concepts that become lost in the affect of either pathway toward what could be considered a Schrodinger’s Cat finale as Charlotte, stuck inside a manor house that’s symbolically a box, could be both sane and insane.

 

Family can be a finicky thing and “Kindred” is a fastidious look at the instability of family and mental illness which can be, in filmmaker Joe Marcantonio’s eye, interchangeable.  Setting up shop before families get together for the impending holiday season, IFC Midnight will release “Kindred” in select theaters, on digital platforms, and on VOD November 6th.  In regards to the look of the film, director of photography, Carlos Catalan, hones in on a series of medium to medium-closeup shots while grasping very little toward widescreen shots, especially being shot mostly in a grand manor house in Scotland.  When Catalan has symmetrical framing, the allusion is gesturing grand with loneliness, but the cinematographer rarely has the frame centered, often creating an unnerving amount of space in the depth when juxtaposed with an uncentered character in the closeup all the while in natural light to not feign cynicism through use of color or filter. The only time filters are used are in the purple hued airy dream sequences with the raven and horses that become a metaphorical motif of Charlotte’s embattled dreams. The score is composed by a UK collaboration of multi-instrumental composers in Natalie Holt and Jack Halama. Holt’s harsh violin chords with Halama’s drama-fueling classical style produced hints of Mark Korven’s “The Witch” in similar tones, but explode with targeted dissensions that spur equally emotional dissensions amongst the characters. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Kindred” is relationally disjointing, disturbingly psychological, and textbook taut with tension as one of the best familiar thrillers to come out of the United Kingdom in the last quarter of the year.