Seance (2021) spoiler-free review: Cozy boarding school slasher is lots of fun

[L-R] Ella-Rae Smith as Helina and Suki Waterhouse as Camille in the horror SEANCE, an RLJE Films and Shudder release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder.
[L-R] Ella-Rae Smith as Helina and Suki Waterhouse as Camille in the horror SEANCE, an RLJE Films and Shudder release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder. /

The following Seance review is SPOILER-FREE.

Seance (2021) from writer/director Simon Barrett hits Shudder this week. The new boarding school thriller is a fun, queer slasher with a low-key vibe, appealing production design, and an excellent performance from lead actress Suki Waterhouse.

The film begins with a classic scenario of several teen girls goofing off in their dormitory bathroom at a prestigious boarding school called Edelvine Academy. Not unlike other urban legends like Bloody Mary and Candyman, the girls try summoning Edelvine’s own ghost, a girl who supposedly killed herself in that very bathroom years prior. By the end of the opening sequence, one girl is dead, setting the events of the rest of the film in motion.

With an opening now available, Camille Meadows (Waterhouse) is invited to attend the school after being waitlisted. She immediately butts heads with the other teens, played by Inanna Sarkis, Madisen Beaty, Jade Michael, Stephanie Sy and Djouliet Amara. Even the headmistress, Mrs. Landry (Marina Stephenson Kerr), isn’t the warmest personality. The only people kind to Camille are Helina (Ella-Rae Smith) and Mrs. Landry’s son, Trevor (Seamus Patterson).

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However, despite butting heads with many of her peers in an explosive initial confrontation, Camille soon finds herself bonded to them due to a series of unfortunate and deadly circumstances. It becomes apparent that there is something dark and dangerous going on at Edelvine Academy, especially as all the teens involved in summoning the Edelvine ghost start to die off one-by-one.

But whether or not there is something supernatural at play is where Seance becomes most compelling as it has several surprises and twists in store throughout its runtime.

Seance review
Seance key art – Courtesy of Shudder /

Seance review: A slick, beautifully designed teen slasher with an excellent performance from Suki Waterhouse

Barrett, who previously wrote one of my favorite slasher films, You’re Next, is more subdued here, as Seance feels melancholic and almost cozy, which feels weird to say about a horror film but’s true. I don’t think the writing in this movie is quite as strong as some of Barrett’s other projects. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to say much, but the antagonist’s motivations felt disingenuous and questionable.

Still, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It moves along fast enough, never feeling slow even though most of the action and bloodshed are saved for the film’s final act. I will say that as a slasher, Seance isn’t necessarily scary.

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There are a couple of cheap jump scares, but the compulsion to watch comes more from wanting to know what’s going to happen next than it does from feeling a sense of mounting dread. The murder mystery element at work here is the strongest element, along with Waterhouse’s character work.

Seance review: Sure to become a boarding school horror classic

Apart from the plot and Waterhouse’s performance, the best parts of Seance are in the ambiance, Tobias Vethake’s haunting score, and Karim Hussain’s cinematography.

Filmed in Manitoba and Winnipeg, Canada, the sets used were apparently constructed or cobbled together from various locations in the area. Whatever magic the production design team did looks excellent on camera as the academy is an imposing, Tudor-style build that adds to the film’s appeal. I appreciated the details they added in production design, especially distinct flourishes to each girl’s dorm room, which would have been easy to gloss over.

I feel like Seance is the perfect film to watch on a rainy afternoon or perhaps for teens at a slumber party. And at the heart of the movie is a romance I wasn’t expecting but delightfully surprised to see unfold.

If you love the vibe of boarding school horror (I know I do), teen screams, and slashers, then Seance should be an easy choice to watch this weekend.

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What do you think of this Seance review? Do you plan on watching the film when it premieres on Shudder? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Seance starts streaming exclusively on Shudder this Wednesday, September 29.