There’s something undeniably special about the frat-adjacent horror subgenre. Past classics like The Craft made room for more recent entries such as The Sinners, proving you can ramp up scares and thrills in an educational setting. In steps Seance, a Shudder original film now out on DVD and Blu-Ray, to continue this trend. While it may not be quite as successful as its genre contemporaries, it’s still an enjoyable, and oddly comforting, 90-minute romp.
The film stars model-turned-actor Suki Waterhouse as Camille, a British girl starting at the supposedly haunted all-girls boarding school, Edelvine Academy for Girls. The ghost of a deceased former student is rumoured to lurk through hallways, striking down unassuming students – and it’s all ramped up when Camille and fellow students including mean-girl Alice (Inanna Sarkis) and timid Helina (Ella-Rae Smith) perform a seance to awaken the spirit. What ensues is a slasher takedown of this clique of girls, as they desperately search for the truth behind the Edelvine ghost.
It may not win any prizes for originality, but Seance certainly leans into what it is: a formulaic, comforting slasher. Once the eponymous communication with the undead is complete, director Simon Barrett takes it down a relatively familiar route, with the girls slowly picked off by a masked, eyeless spectre. These kills are genuinely enjoyable, and the imagery itself is rather freaky, with buckets of blood to give the violence a really visceral feel. It’s rare that a film truly earns its 18 certificate, but Seance certainly makes the cut.
Unfortunately, the plot alone may not be enough to keep horror sceptics entertained. The structure is awfully contrived, and the ultimate killer reveal totally unsurprising. But that’s not always a bad thing, as it makes the film quite strangely comforting to watch: you broadly know where it’s going to go, so it becomes a turn-your-brain-off slasher affair. The only time Seance will really shock you is the last ten minutes or so, which leans on influences like Scream to turns your expectations of the plot on its head.
This clear adulation for horror canon is what holds Seance together, as the writing and performances aren’t quite strong enough to gel everything together. Waterhouse isn’t an acting newcomer any more, but her performance here is quite flat, with unconvincing line delivery and an accent that oddly tows the line between British and American. The supporting cast are equally underwritten, with only Alice, Helina, and Bethany (Madisen Beaty) given any semblance of depth. It would’ve been nice if the other students were anything more than archetypes, but Barrett’s script doesn’t really give those minor players room to breathe. Kudos is due, though, for the glimmers of LGBTQ+ representation, which is something of a rare commodity in mainstream horror.
But of course, depth and nuance aren’t really the point when it comes to Seance. This is comfort food cinema at its best, with gnarly kills, a familiar plot structure, and enough twists to keep you engaged. It may not revolutionise the frat-horror niche, but it’s an entry that proves it still has legs.
Seance is out January 17, 2022 on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital from Acorn Media.