I know of a horror movie-obsessed young boy who, during one school holidays in the ’90s, with parents in absentia, decided to hold a seance in the back room of his family’s semi-detached house. Soon after he and a friend had begun riffing their incantations, the sound of the two kids chanting was pierced by a deafening, high-pitched drone, the walls began shaking and the pair tore off out of the house gibbering in fear, convinced they’d summoned a malevolent and powerful demon. That boy was me, of course, and the noise, it turned out, was my next-door neighbour using his power drill on the party wall.
The moral of the story is not to mess with the dark arts. But secondary to that it’s that seances in real life aren’t as entertaining as seances in the movies – until now. Because Shudder Original Seance, on the streaming service now, is somehow even less entertaining than reading the uninvited personal anecdote I just shared with you.
We find ourselves in one of those schools that exist only in some Netflix-era hinterland between the US and UK, where you have an unexplained mixed bag of American and British teenage girls dressed for a day at St. Trinian’s but playing the Mean Girls characters and thinking about prom.
The reason these not-even-gothy girls host the titular seance is the same as it was for 11-year-old summer holiday me: sheer boredom. It’s a feeling you’ll experience intensely yourself while watching Seance, in which the plot lunges pointlessly forward like a Slinky Spring lolloping down stairs and the level of acting talent is that of last spring’s performance of Pirates Of Penzance at the civic theatre.
Boredom leads the schoolgirls to a prank gone wrong – a fake seance to summon the Edelvine Ghost, which scares its target, Kerrie, so much that she takes her own life. That situation plays well for Suki Waterhouse’s new girl Camille Meadows, who takes Kerrie’s space at the boarding school.
Soon, pupils are dropping dead as quickly as my own pupils were rolling backwards into my skull while watching this movie. Is it a ghost or a serial killer or multiple serial killers or none of the above? Do I care? Do you? Does the cast? Does writer/director Simon Barrett? He wrote the actually-very-good You’re Next – he’s better than this. Yet there he is, wrapping with a reveal that’s so insanely reasoned you wonder if you’ve been watching a very clever spoof the whole time, and a bogus twist that’s clunky like a monkey wrench to the head.
In other news, I’d like to offer the producers the movie rights to my summer holiday seance story, because it’d at least be better than this dreary, old cold flannel of a film. Now, if only I can remember the incantation…
- Director: Simon Barrett
- Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Inanna Sarkis, Ella-Rae Smith
- Release date: September 29 (Shudder)