This review contains spoilers.
2.6 The Seance
Looking suspiciously similar to series 1’s closer The Harrowing, Seance Time opened with a big creepy house on a suburban road, a young female POV character walking into the building with hesitation, and some really dated interior décor. If you’re a devoted viewer of the show, this might have made you feel right at home; you may have found the house, and genre, familiar. The last episode of this run of Inside No. 9 was a return to juicy horror for the series, but any similarities to what’s gone before were just a starting point for a tale that switched from familiar horror set-ups to a look behind the curtain/camera, before turning right back around to something unsettling for a last spine-jolter.
Leading us towards those jolts was that well-used trope from horror films and television – the seance. Yet again, writers Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have carefully plundered cinema and television past for references the audience will recognise in order to set the action (and the ruse…) up quickly; the antique props used to call the spirits forward, the black-laced medium with milky white eyes, and a wide-eyed outsider drawn to speak to the dead. That these are just set-pieces for a hidden camera show called ‘Scaredy Cam’ is just the first bit of fun misdirection, tipping us right out of the familiar and into a more meta style of story.
Even more intimidating and probably a lot crueller than the underworld is the television industry, and Seance Time gathered some frighteningly ghoulish characters from the ‘Summerland’ of cancelled TV to scare. More parasitic and dead of heart than Dracula (even Luke Evans’ recent version; even that) is Shearsmith’s fading TV host, Terry – one of that very specific brand of washed-up middle-aged television presenters from yesteryear. Most people can probably call to mind about a dozen of their ilk… but would cringe from naming them aloud in fear of bringing them into corporeal form, a la Candyman. Working with him on the show is Alice Lowe as Amanda, a make-up artist so deadened to the bitchery of the entertainment industry that she doesn’t baulk at removing expensive wigs and teeth from the newly (and actually) dead to save her props. Rounding out the cast of characters, and providing some of the best fun of the episode, is Alison Steadman as Anne, a luvvie stage actress (stooping to TV in between performances of Hedda Gabler) who gets to growl out some fantastically bitter and narcissistic lines – “Did you know, I was very nearly Marple. They said I wasn’t sweet enough – fuckers!”
As the filming of the seance pranks play out, and things slowly start to go wrong with the props, the darknesses and exploitations of the entertainment industry seep into and affect the action of the episode and its characters. Haunted by the memory of a previous prank that ended badly, Terry starts to notice signs of a real haunting on the set, just as heartless asides about the young boy affected by the prank-gone-wrong echoes the scorn shown by cast and crew towards current day-player Clive (Dan Starkey). Leading to an ending scare just as masonry-materials-excretingly-shocking as the final moments of The Harrowing, Seance Time is a perfectly creepy ending to a series that has only improved with its second run, offering more variety, great performances, and skilled writing, acting, and directing from Pemberton and Shearsmith. We’ll have our fingers tightly crossed for a return to Inside No. 9. ‘Spirit of Young Boy’ – you’re great, but we don’t need to meet again.
Read Phoebe’s review of the previous episode, Nana’s Party, here.
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