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'Seance' Review: No incantation is saving this

Want to see a seance with a Bath and Body Works candle?

The cast of 'Seance.'
(Image: © RLJE )

Our Verdict

'Seance' takes itself too seriously to be anything interesting.

For

  • 🕯️The cast is doing their best with what they're given.
  • 🕯️The last fifteen minutes have some interesting bits in them.

Against

  • 🕯️92 minutes is somehow too long.
  • 🕯️Shoehorned lesbian kisses stopped being exciting a decade ago, that's enough now.
  • 🕯️Interesting premise, boring execution.

Maybe the real haunting was the friendships we made along the way! Seance has a real Scooby-Doo kind of vibe, which would be great if it bothered to be any fun. Say what you will about the Riverdale’s and the Nancy Drew’s of the world — the success that they garner is because they know what they are and are happy to laugh at it. Seance seems to have missed what it is along the way, and in doing so it does both its cast and its audience a pretty considerable disservice.

We open at the Edelvine Academy, where a small group of girls try to call forth the Edelvine ghost. The myth is pretty standard — young student has had enough, slits her wrists in the bathroom sink and then tilts her head back to drown in her own blood. It’s ultimately all just a prank by the resident mean girl, Alice (Inanna Sarkins), but things don’t go exactly as planned. The supremely annoyed non-believer, Kerrie (Megan Best), storms back to her room only to be met by the very ghost the girls had just invoked. Her body is discovered by her “friends” not long after. Her death is ruled a suicide, but the friends can’t seem to shake the feeling that something more sinister may have unfolded in Kerrie’s room.

Kerrie’s suicide results in an opening at Eldevine, leading to the introduction of Camille (Suki Waterhouse). She’s not one to deal with Alice and the other girls’ bullying, but she didn’t come to the Academy betting on also having to fight supernatural forces. Camille immediately finds herself with a lot on her plate, what with the resident mean girls, ghosts, and sitting several semesters behind on the school’s course load. At the very least, ends up with a fast friend in Helina (Ella-Rae Smith) who seems to have been a good friend of Kerrie’s as well.

Seance’s cardinal sin is that it’s just plain boring. How you can break the well-known “under the covers” (that’s base, ghosts. Don’t get squirrely) rule and still not manage to illicit any kind of emotional response from your viewer is beyond me, but the film pulls it off. Gore doesn’t have a place in all horror, but if you’re playing up haunting-meets-slasher fare, you should probably have a pretty good handle on your kills. And yet, despite its R-rating, Seance doesn’t manage to deliver until the last ten minutes.

Simon Barrett has seen some considerable successes as the scribe of You’re Next, Blair Witch and The Guest, but lack of the same tenure in the director’s chair certainly shows here. Seance does have a perfectly interesting premise to build off of, but if you’re not sure how to guide your actors in a meaningful way, everything flounders. At its worst, Seance highlights this with a completely shoehorned lesbian kiss that only makes me bang my “let women direct female-driven stories” drum harder. Token gay moments used to get you a pass from those of us dying to see our sexuality represented on screen, but it’s 2021 and they don’t fly anymore.

Despite a tight ninety-two-minute runtime, Seance suffers from a lot of spinning wheels. The last fifteen minutes do manage to kick up some interest, but not enough to justify the rest that came before it. Stand out performances go to Suki Waterhouse and Stephanie Sy (Yvonne), but it feels like even they know what kind of film they’re in. Usually, when ninety-minute jams feel like they're too long, it can be chalked up to the fact that sometimes your story is just meant to be a short film. In the instance of Seance, most of its troubles can be chalked up to a good premise with the least interesting execution possible. 

Seance hits VOD and theaters on May 21st, 2021.