GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Simon Barrett.
Starring Suki Waterhouse, Madisen Beaty, Inanna Sarkis, Ella-Rae Smith, Seamus Patterson.
Horror, USA, 88 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray via Acorn Media on 17th January 2022.
The debut feature from director Simon Barrett, SEANCE is an old-style murder mystery with elements of giallo/slasher thrown in, clearly to satisfy fans of gore which, pleasingly, works in its favour because despite its best intentions, there is a little too much reliance on genre familiarity.
Opening with a charming shot of an old boarding school building on a dark, wintry night, we see a group of girls in a dark room with a lit candle as one of the gang tells a story about a former pupil who died and whose ghost now haunts the hallways of the school. Things happen and it all turns out to be a prank but unfortunately not all the girls come away unscathed and there is a tragedy.
Fast forward to the arrival of Camille (Suki Waterhouse), a new pupil who seems to upset the other girls by not being a shrinking violet and giving as good as she gets. She especially seems to rile gang leader Alice (Inanna Sarkis) who takes it upon herself to create some more pranks to scare the new arrival, but given the tragedies that have happened at the school and the group numbers diminishing as the night goes on, are the strange goings on the work of girls playing pranks or is there actually a supernatural presence at work?
A retro movie without trying to obviously be a retro movie, SEANCE is a very confident debut from Simon Barrett, who has previously directed shorts for V/H/S/2 and V/H/S/94. There is a spooky atmosphere created early on that continues pretty much until the final act and the strong performances from the cast all help to keep you engaged, especially during the first hour where things do happen, but the really fun stuff hasn’t quite kicked in.
The big drawback with using familiar genre tropes to set the scene is that we’ve seen it all before in other movies – girls practising ballet as a killer stalks the school? Can’t think where we’ve seen that. Strong female characters fighting back against masked intruders? Simon Barrett also wrote YOU’RE NEXT. And as for tapping into the late-‘90s post-SCREAM slasher, this could almost be a sequel to Wes Craven’s meta mega-hit given the busy climax.
None of which is a massive problem as Simon Barrett is canny enough to give enough of a flavour of other movies rather than directly lift from them, but seasoned horror buffs won’t find anything original amongst the homages and that can get a bit tiresome, even in a movie that comes in at under 90 minutes. Luckily, though, the final act is where things pick up and some proper gore is introduced, adding some much-needed excitement to a murder mystery that was threatening to collapse under itself due to too much build-up. Again, throat slashings and stabbings are nothing new, but they’re pretty well done here, although there is a decapitation by a falling bookshelf that may have sounded like a good idea on paper but is actually pretty silly when you see it.
Overall, SEANCE is a movie that fits squarely in the middle of any ratings system. It isn’t a bad film and that final act is quite a fun ride once the pieces fall into place, but unless you’re a newbie and looking for a gateway into the genre, there is very little here that hardened horror fans would want to want to watch more than once.