Seance (2011)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Nathan Hill
Writers Nathan Hill
Starring Daniel Rankin, Piers Cunningham, Bronwyn Murphy
Genre Psychological
Tagline Keep an open mind
15 second cap Grieving dude falls foul of an ouija board, psychic attack commences


“If it works I would like to talk to her” - Bill

Bill Trigger isn't taking the death of his fiancé, killed in a road accident six months previously, well. He has cut himself off from friends, lives in an isolated beach shack, and spends his days snorkelling, watching a dreadful looking television show, and reading the sort of book found at the counters of chain-store book emporiums. At best Bill is treading water, at worse he is slowly deteriorating as he tries to cope with his grief.

Bill's best mate Sam sets up a party with Cassandra and Wendy, hoping the girls will knock Bill out of his funk. Wendy is taken with Bill's plight and offers to try and contact his dead fiancé Theresa via a ouija board. Naturally enough Bill is sceptical but agrees to the make shift seance. As any dark genre fan knows, ouija boards spell trouble, and it's no different this time as Theresa isn't the spirit they contact on the other side. Bill isn't happy and storms out believing the others are making fun of his grief. Unfortunately the spirits are restless and follow Bill home in order to get in some white noise and incessant scratching at the walls and ceiling of Bill's crib. Is Bill going mad due to his grief or are their more sinister forces at work? Let's hit the water running.

Nathan Hill caused a stir amongst dark genre fans Downunder with his excellent debut movie Tomboys (2009), an Indie movie that wasn't noted for pulling it's punches. Our take was a Director worth keeping an eye on. Surprisingly Hill then went for more of a psychological approach with his intriguing Jasper (2010), though I would be quick to add the psychological approach shows a script Writer gaining in confidence with his craft. Moving firmly back into dark genre waters, Jasper is arguably not a horror flick, Hill retains the psychological edge while heightening the scream with Seance, an out and out dark genre romp masquerading as a thriller. We aren't fooled over here, and as soon as the disc arrived their was an unseemly rush to get it into the player. What followed was the sort of movie that reinvigorates your belief that the horror genre is alive and well. Nathan Hill once again proves why he is quickly becoming one of Australia's leading dark genre film makers.

Seance opens with an underwater extended scene that makes a lot more sense in the context of the whole movie than it does on initial viewing. I get the feeling that Hill was using the ocean, which features throughout Seance, as a metaphor on a couple of levels, but will leave that to the Critics to dissect and pin to a cork board. We are next introduced to our male lead, the grieving Bill, who is simply unable to get over the loss of the love of his life Theresa. What Hill does is set up the character without explaining the situation, you will deduce what's going down but valuable screen time isn't wasted on ponderously exploring the issues Bill is facing. Immediately I was struck with the different approach being taken here to a spate of recent Hollywood flicks. Hill is respecting his audience, and leaves it to them to discover the extent of the drama unfolding on their screens, rather than throwing on a paint-by-numbers flick aimed at brain dead teens. Have we lost the art of interpretation? - that would be affirmative according to Hollywood. The other thing I particularly liked about the first block of the movie was Hill taking time out to build his character and metaphors, lulling the Audience into a false sense of security before unleashing in the second and third acts.

During the second act Hill sets up one of the best ouija board sequences you are ever likely to stumble upon. Jamie Murgatroyd's score hits new creepy highs, it's gradually became more sinister through the first act, lighting is reduced with plenty of darkness on the edge of the frames, and as we get a name spelt out it's not the one we are expecting. I had the chills running down my spine, helped by a darkened house that was creaking away through the night. Naturally we know that once the spirits are summoned they don't tend to go quietly into that night, and Hill hints at The Exorcist (1973) with scratching in the ceiling and walls of Bill's crib, as he ramps up the tension through a series of night time scare scenes. Adding to the unease is an almost white noise like disembodied voice that gradually becomes clearer as the second block of the movie runs it's finger nails down a virtual blackboard, putting the viewer on the edge of their seat.

For once, and this doesn't happen often enough, a white person faced with supernatural forces gets out of dodge as the third act of Seance continues to weave the creepy magic that Hill has going down. I actually loved the third act, there's a feeling that since this is a horror movie then there's got to be a final twist, but Hill strings that out before throwing up a curve ball that was hinted at during the first two acts. Hill doesn't present any left field resolutions or “because the script require it” plot turns, Seance has a damned fine script that leaves nothing up in the air or in any way takes the Audience out of the movie.

During the course of the movie I was intrigued by a number of decisions Nathan Hill took on a tight budget that added to the effect he clearly wanted to achieve. Naturally since Seance is a low budget Aussie Indie flick there's none of the polished, and I would add unbelievable, veneer Hollywood movies bring to the table. It took me a while to realise that some static camera angles being used, primarily in scenes focusing on the beach and the front door of Bill's crib “Halcyon”, were actually enhancing my movie experience rather than detracting from it. Hill uses the angles to not only denote the passing of time, beach scenes, but also to add an almost Paranormal Activity (2007) feeling of reality, the door scenes, to the movie. I was also digging on the door having something hidden behind it that we might just not want to be exposed to.

Reclaiming traditional movie techniques Hill goes with some time lapse, panning, and overhead shots, to keep things interesting. I should also point out the Director hits traditional ghost story territory with frame photos of Theresa on display throughout Halcyon, so a bob each way with the more demonic trappings.

I was also left wondering if the viewer isn't being exposed to some Nathan Hill dark humour, with “Halcyon” referring to supposedly the seven days in Winter that are calm and peaceful without storms. Clearly Seance is anything but calm and peaceful.

At the conclusion of the movie a couple of debates raged as people tried to come to grips with what they had just sat through. Please check into the next paragraph to avoid spoilers here. Firstly whether or not the paranormal activity was all in Bill's mind as he let the Roos loose. I'm arguing it wasn't all psychological due to the Priest who turns up also hearing the scratching sounds, backed up by the two Tradies who couldn't locate the source of the noise. And secondly if there was a paranormal explanation then exactly what had come visiting during Bill's nights of terror. I leave it to the reader to make their own mind up there, but my thoughts are the mythical devil is a trickster and suicide is a mortal sin.

My nemesis, the word limit, has reared it's ugly head again. So fast tracking the rest of the review, which admittedly does threaten to reach epic proportions. As mentioned earlier Jamie Murgatroyd hits a high with an effective and eerie score that backs up Hill's visuals in stunning fashion. Nathan Hill hits the whole “man alone” vibe with his script, which had me giving high fives to the dead people we keep behind the sofa. And the atmosphere and tension is warp into factor nine and beyond. Nathan Hill adds the chill to Australian horror, and doesn't break a sweat in doing so.

A couple of minor negative points on the movie. Some of the acting is slightly on the wooden side of the bench, and in a couple of places I wondered if the dialogue wasn't slightly too formal for an Aussie setting. As stated, minor points yo.

Nathan Hill once again demonstrates the promise shown in Tomboys wasn't a one off phenomena, with his new movie Seance delivering on the chills. I had a fun time through out, though admittedly I was slightly freaked at stages, and have no hesitation in recommending this movie to anyone reading. If you are prepared to get down and dirty with Indie movies then you are going to rock to this one, catch the movie and get your scared on.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Nathan Hill once again delivers on the chills