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Séance (2007)

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As far back as human history goes man has always been intrigued by the concept of contacting the dead. The famed magician Harry Houdini even devoted the later part of his life to disprove the popular claims that people could talk to the dead. Currently on television there are at least two mainstream series and numerous other shows that employ the notion of talking to ghosts as a central plot point. It is only natural that such a theme would be used over and over by horror flicks. The latest in this trend is ‘Séance’ by new comer film maker Mark L. Smith. By this point in time independent horror flicks might as well be constructed by a MadLib style computer program. We need a group of victims: college students. Next a setting: broken down college dorm. Finally a mad killer: ghost of the serial killer former janitor. While almost every third Indy flick seems to be a horror flick like this the difference is in how the writer, director and cast approach the project. In this case the film is a reasonable horror flick but there are more than a few missteps along the way. The use of the term ‘reasonable’ here simply means that the requirements mentioned above have all been met. There is little to differentiate this movie from the growing legion of this now hackneyed sub genre. It would be nice if the new crop of Indy writers and directors realized there are other stories to tell than ‘lets slash up some kids.’ Hasn’t the latest independent huge hits like ‘Juno’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ shown that you don’t need a sizable body count to make a film? In fact after the cost to profit margin those films have achieved it is a wonder these new film makers aren’t deserting horror altogether.

This is the first time up at bat for Mark L. Smith as both writer and director. His script is pedestrian but there is a glimmer of hope for future endeavors. He has all the right elements in place but just didn’t manage to set this tale apart from the pack. There are some well done twists in the plot lines that aren’t completely telegraphed before hand. This potential is already being developed with the second script he penned, another horror/thriller movie, ‘Vacancy’. That script received a much bigger budget and attracted mainstream actors. Smith moving up as a writer and that should be his niche for now. As a director again he has potential that this film does not afford him to explore. He does avoid many of the jumpy camera work that seems to be popular now. He also brings freshness to some of the interesting, albeit well used, camera angles he employs. He does keep the swearing, nudity and gore to a much lower degree than usual for this type of film. Some die hard fans of the genre may take this as a negative but it is trending in the right direction. This may have been more the writer in him since he did gear his second script more to the psychological thriller. That is the genre for this man as he continues to develop his talents.

The film does seem to have a better budget than most of its peers but doesn’t come across as over produced. Most of the cast are relative newcomers. Some have had the usual television experience with bit roles and, of course, several have had the soap opera parts in their resumes. A film like this needs at least one recognizable name. It also helps if that actor is known in horror or a related genre. In this case it is Adrian Paul from the ‘Highlander’ television series. He is a very talented actor who deserves a much better career than he has had since the TV show. This cast does have what you need for a horror flick. The young women are very beautiful and the guys are handsome. It is amazing how regular looking people never run across psychotic killers in college.

Okay, the opening of the movie is more than a little cliché. It starts on a dark and stormy night, really. The location is Chelsea Hall, an old college dorm house. As the lightening clashes outside the window Lauren (Kandis Erickson) is fast asleep; unaware of what is going on. Five plastic shampoo bottle slides across the floor to form a pentagram as the faucet on the sink turn on by itself. As the water splashes into the sink Lauren is awakened and she gets up to investigate. She goes into the bathroom and pulls back the shower curtain. Behind it is a little girl (Bridget Shergalis) with darkened eyes. The little girl hisses at Lauren, lunges forward and begins to choke Lauren as blood drips out of the ghostly girl’s mouth. Suddenly Lauren wakes up still in her own bed. What just happened was far too real to have been just a dream. Lauren goes back to the bathroom. The bottles are still in their arrangement on the floor and the faucet is still running. Before she can push back the shower curtain her roommate, Melinda (Tori White), comes in to pee. The next morning everyone on campus is busy leaving. It is the start of the Thanksgiving break but Lauren is going to stay on campus. Some others are staying behind as well including a couple Diego (A.J. Lamas) and Alison (Chauntal Lewis) and Melinda. In order to steal a bottle of booze from the security guard Melinda goes to him and ask if she can use the common shower. He naturally has a peep hole to watch and while he is distracted the other girls get the bottle. There are also problems with the electricity and cell phone service so all the plot points are coming into line; booze, college students, the supernatural and isolation.

It turns out that there is one other student still there, Grant (Joel Geist). He apparently has some mental health issues as shown by the cabinet full of prescription medication include one to ‘keep him from jumping off the roof’. They discover an old article that talks about Cara Furia, the little girl Lauren saw last night. She was found dead at the bottom of the elevator shaft in her apartment building. It just happens that one of the dorm’s elevators has always been taped off and not used. Since they are all bored being on campus alone with such bad weather they decide to hold a séance to see if they can contact the ghost girl. The go through the procedure and things start to happen. There is the mandatory writing on the foggy bathroom mirror and glimpses of the little girl. What they don’t expect is the appearance of a sinister looking man (Adrian Paul).

The film tries to be more of a psychological thriller than a straight horror flick and works somewhat better in that genre selection. There is much less blood and gore than you might expect. This is sort of horror light. The film is released to DVD by Lion’s Gate as part of their dedication to smaller, less known films. This one works better than expected but will disappoint the horror fans expecting tons of blood and sex. While not family friendly it is tamer than other such films.

Posted 03/09/08

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