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.