Movie of the Week: Séance on a Wet Afternoon

In the English suburbs live Billy and Myra Savage. The Savages appear to be a typical, middleclass British couple– unassuming people in an unassuming house. Normal, more or less, except for Arthur doesn’t work due to his asthma and Myra is a medium who believes she talks to the spirit of their dead son, Arthur, who died in infancy several years ago. One senses that Billy stays home more to watch after Myra than because of his health problems.

Myra hosts weekly séances in their home, with Billy’s assistance, and there is a group of regular attendees. They believe in Myra’s abilities, she believes in herself, and her husband believes, basically, as moral support. With the success of these gatherings, Myra wants to go bigger, she wants to be famous for her talents, and she has a plan to put her in the spotlight and money in the bank: Myra’s going to help the police find a missing child. The catch is, she and her husband are going to, as Myra says, “borrow” a kid to make sure she knows where to instruct the cops to search.

Billy is hesitant, which is only natural. He isn’t so keen to break the law, and face prison time if caught, but Myra is insistent (in fact, she gives domineering spouses a very bad name). Myra may also be more than a little unhinged and in need of some serious professional help.

Myra’s plan is meticulous, with subtle disguises, red herrings, the calculated duration of chloroform and even accounts for police involvement. She has Billy remodel an upstairs room to resemble an infirmary where they, wearing masks, impersonate a doctor and nurse and imprison little Amanda. They tell her she has double measles and must be quarantined.

With the missing child front page news, Myra, like most every medium and soothsayer in the country, visits the girl’s parents to offer her help. The father dismisses her, but the mother thinks the pleasant Mrs. Savage may have a true gift. This visit also catches the eye of the police who decide to follow-up on Myra, which is routine, to cross her off the list of suspects.

When the police pay a visit to the Savages’ home, Billy about has a heart attack. He is the weak link in Myra’s grand plan. Originally, the plan was to return the child, and then the ransom money once Myra is famous. Myra has changed the plan, though. She informs Billy that Arthur, their dead child, has told her it would be better for Amanda to join him in the spirit world. How far is the frustrated, concerned husband willing to go before reaching the breaking point?

If you’re looking for a chilly little movie to pass a rainy afternoon, or night, like the ones we’ve been having here in Tennessee lately, Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a primo choice. Myra (Kim Stanley in an Oscar nominated performance) is subtly bonkers. She is much more menacing than Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and more psychotic than Annie Wilkes (Misery).