by Hope Madden
Off in the dusty old Edelvine boarding school, the girls are restless. They need something to pass the time, something to entertain them. They need a Séance.
Essentially, the mean girls gather in a dorm lav and Candyman the school’s ghost—saying her name 3 times at 3:13 am, the moment she died, in the very bathroom where it all happened.
Well, it’s all just a harmless prank until one of the girls winds up dead. Was it the ghost?
Fast forward a bit and Camille (Suki Waterhouse) arrives to fill the vacant room. More girls go missing or turn up dead in a film that cannot find a way to say anything new. Simon Barrett has written some good stuff: Blair Witch (2016), The Guest (2014), You’re Next (2011), Dead Birds (2004). He had not directed any features prior to Séance, but it’s hard to blame this film’s doldrums on its direction. The story just isn’t there.
Everything feels borrowed, not from any film in particular, but from the collective unconscious of dorm room horror that involves whispering ghosts, nubile schoolgirls, glinting blades and mystery. Barrett’s writing has tended to utilize tropes from the 80s and 90s to lull audiences into a sense of familiarity that allows him to deliver unexpected thrills.
His latest pulls most clearly from 90s staples like the Urban Legend franchise. But when he zigs instead of zags, the lull has turned stupor and Séance’s surprises just aren’t enough to snap us out of it.
Performances are fine, production values solid. There’s nothing embarrassing here, just nothing to get excited about. Some of the film’s sleights of hand are clever enough, but the storytelling is so anemic that it’s hard to applaud them. Barrett generates no dread and no sense of connection to any of the characters.
Unlike Guest’s Maika Monroe or You’re Next’s Sharni Vinson, who command the screen and drive the film, Waterhouse delivers a mainly listless performance. She’s neither scared nor curious, and though her bursts of ferocity feel cagey, it’s not enough to inject the film with any fire.