Seance low-key took my world by storm during its initial release in May, and while I never was lucky enough to live anywhere near a theatre that was playing it, even in its SVOD release, it still remains my #1 movie of 2021 so far, and I feel really strange about that. There have definitely been good movies this year, but something about this small indie production, in all its feisty, bloody goodness, just resonated with me in a way I couldn’t describe at first. It’s more feeling than logic, but the warm fuzzies I got from a straightforward, yet cleverly effective bit of academic horror really hit home just how much content that involves a private boarding school remains the ultimate fantasy for me. As a public school kid, who is indeed proud of his public school education, there’s a sick curiosity I’ve always harbored for boarding schools, in that I can never imagine any of the children there being well-adjusted in the absolute slightest, and maybe Seance just confirms that bias for me. I do think there’s something a bit more that I’m missing too, something that came about on my second watch for the Blu-ray release.
For those uninitiated, Seance follows Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) as she joins the elite ranks of Edelvine Academy for Girls, a prestigious New England boarding school. Camille is joining midway through the semester as she is taking the place of Kerrie (Megan Best), a student who died by “suicide” following a prank a few weeks prior. After making enemies with the mean girls, Alice (Inanna Sarkis), Bethanny (Madisen Beaty), Yvonne (Stephanie Sy), Rosalind (Djouliet Amara), and Lenora (Jade Michael), as well as making friends with her quiet escort, Helina (Ella-Rae Smith), Camille’s volatile actions land all of them in detention. Here, the girls stage a sham seance in order to scare Camille and Helina, but they all soon discover that a fatal force has been summoned to the school that begins to pick the girls off one by one, and they must race against time to figure out how to stop it.
It’s simple, so deceptively simple that it might almost seem like a throwaway horror film, but writer/director Simon Barrett is no stranger to twisting conventions on their heads and putting his own spin on the material. There is such an effortless coolness to the film and the characters that feel straight out of Euphoria, minus the heavy drugs, and it makes the entire endeavor more fun and engaging than if the cast were simply made up of blood bags ready for slaughter. There’s a connection to be made to everyone here, and while it’s certainly played up in the way that most films about teenage girls written by adult men can be, it adds a level of campy fun that doesn’t bring down the intention of the film as something more serious.
On Blu-ray, RLJE Films has provided a decent transfer for a film more deserving of something stunning (or 4K, but I won’t be bitter about that as RLJE is a small studio). Shot by Karim Hussain (Possessor), Seance is a cold, bitter film that works hard to make itself feel as constricting as possible, and RLJE’s 1080p Blu-ray transfer mostly brings the goods on what Seance was meant to look like. Ambient lighting and contrast both excel wonderfully here, though I do wish the end product didn’t feel as washed out in the end’s third act, but there’s really not much to complain of here.
However, I have a bone to pick with the audio department. It is 2021, we have homes with full-on Dolby Atmos setups and borderline IMAX-level subwoofers, with Blu-ray paving the way for lossless audio for over 15 years now, and Seance is packed in with a lossy, tepid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix, the same audio mix also put on the standard definition DVD. Without that extra oomph, Seance loses a lot of the effective ambience that set the scenes nicely, but more importantly, the deeply impactful electronic score from Sicker Man lacks the weighty depth that comes with listening to the score in its native format. It leaves the film, which you can tell is bombastic from its intentions, lacking the depth that leads to its anemic sound profile. It’s a huge shame when a film like this not only would have benefited from a proper lossless 5.1 setup, but also with a full-scale Dolby Atmos mix, which I have seen employed on smaller films than this.
I have to commend RLJE for including a smattering of special features in a world where any film not receiving a release from Criterion or Shout! Factory rarely receive any, and the crown jewel of the supplemental material is absolutely Simon Barrett’s audio commentary. Barrett details the ways in which he crafted a cohesive world from shooting on multiple sets in multiple buildings scattered across Winnipeg, and is also really candid regarding his influences, his experience with studio notes, and even things he doesn’t think fully work in hindsight. It’s a natural, bountiful commentary that really benefits any person who sees the worth in this little gem.
The rest of the special features are, admittedly, pretty slapdash as a whole, with an awkwardly edited, repetitive “making of” documentary that only includes footage from one night of shooting, as well as interviews from three supporting actresses in the film only, that doesn’t feel really enlightening in any way. The deleted scenes benefit from having optional commentary from Barrett, and do include two alternate deaths that didn’t make it into the final cut, but are mostly throwaway scenes of transition. The “Decapitation Pre-Viz” was what I was looking forward to the most, but it’s only a cell phone video made with dolls that show Barrett’s inspiration for the extra gory third act death, which honestly gets more attention paid to it in the outtakes. They’re…outtakes…and not particularly amusing ones. General line flubs and set issues abound, but no real heft or spontaneity to them. Again, I have to hand it to RLJE for trying, as it’s easy to just not add any at all and expect us to be fine with it, but beyond the commentary, there isn’t any major revelation or deeper appreciation that comes with what’s included, which is a shame.
Honestly, even as perhaps the world’s biggest fan of this film, I don’t really recommend spending money on this release for any other reason beyond the audio commentary or simply for physical media preservation. Nothing else has had quite enough thought or effort put into it to justify spending money on a film that will inevitably be dropping on Shudder come this fall, and given the real star of the show is the film itself, this disappoints me a bit. It doesn’t take away from the absolute blast this film is, it’s just a basic port of the film to a Blu-ray disc, and even that, in and of itself, is underwhelming. Points for at least trying to pad out a special features section, but sometimes things just don’t pan out.
Séance Special Features:
- Director Commentary
- Behind the Scenes of Seance
- Deleted Scenes
- Decapitation Pre-Viz
- Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
Available on Blu-ray and DVD August 3rd, 2021.