Directed By: Simon Barrett
Starring: Suko Waterhouse, Madisen Beaty, Ella-Rae Smith, Inanna Sarkis
Disclaimer: RLJ Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.
Before I dive into this review I think some context is important. Simon Barrett has always been a interesting figure emerging alongside people like Ti West, Adam Wingard and Eli Roth. These were young horror fans and film students that wanted to take the mantle from previous horror icons like Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter. While Roth and Wingard would find success, the latter now working on big tent pole films, Ti West hasn't made a feature film since 2013 and, largely just works in television. Barrett seems to be another success story having written indie hits like You're Next (2011) and The Guest (2014). Clearly this brought him a lot of attention and he was given the chance to write the big budget reboot/sequel Blair Witch (2016). Though BW technically did turn a profit it was not the big money maker the studio had hoped for. Critics were unkind as well and the movie sits at a dismal 37% rating on RT. On a side note I had a very brief encounter with Barrett who properly shut down my request for an interview stating that he no longer handled that himself. It partly stung because I had hustled and been successful with big name interviews in the past without going through PR but also, he never suggested whom to contact for official channels.
I didn't hold a grudge and I have followed his career with interest none the less. 2021's Séance marks an interesting step in his career as its his first feature film where he's in the directors chair. The films set up is surface level pretty simple: a group of mean-girls from a posh boarding school pull a prank on a fellow "friend" that leads to her death. A new student fills her slot named Camille (Suko Waterhouse) and the group decide to "for reasons" pull another prank on Camille involving a...you guessed it séance which of course has bad results. So, I wanted to really enjoy this movie. It started strong with a healthy amount of atmosphere and a kind of "cozy mystery" type setting ala the isolated boarding school. Séance is sadly a mish-mash of horror clichés, plot holes and clear inspirations to other better films. I use to love how Barrett could take simple premises and spin genre gold with his earlier screenwriting. This on the other hand takes a fairly straight forward plot and gets increasingly convoluted. Character motivations are absurd even by horror logic and a honestly think the movie runs out of steam after its set-up.
On the bright side the movie does have a healthy amount of mood and though its screenplay is a mixed bag at best, the mystery it weaves is engaging enough to help you get slog through. Though the twist does do a decent job at subverting expectations. I also think that visually the movie is great and is probably one of the better aspects of this aimless outing.
Séance is most certainly a low point for Barrett who shined bright but lately has yet to return to his former gory-glory. It offers nothing new to the genre nor does it try to have any fun with it. Bland and honestly, kind of dull in places. I hope that we once again get a run of movies from Barrett like V/H/S, You're Next and The Guest.
Picture: RLJE has a pretty great track record when it comes to providing really stellar looking 1080p transfers. As for a lot of movies shot on digital, Séance has a crisp clean look with a nice depth in colors and blacks are deep. There is even a nice grainy film like look which is really nice to see. There is a real warmth to certain scenes that help enhance the visuals (which is top-notch).
Sound: Séance has a robust and healthy DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue comes in clear though not as hearty as I would have liked. Though, the 5.1 does make good use in terms of the sound design and effects. Overall, flawed but really well done.
Extras: Extras include: Directors commentary, Behind the Scenes, Outtakes, Deleted Scenes, Decpitation Pre-Viz, Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery.