Derren Brown: Séance (2004)

Derren Brown is a master illusionist who loves to set up elaborate plays to trick the mind into believing that’s it’s witnessing the paranormal. He is the host of many shows displaying his talent. In this particular episode he attempts to conduct a séance that leaves the participants terrified and wondering whether there might not be otherwordly forces involved after all.




Full Plot:
Before the 2004 show “Derren Brown: Séance” begins, a disclaimer states that none of the participants are actors or stooges.

The location of this episode is Elton Hall, a former training center for medical students located in the middle of a busy street in London. It has been abandoned since 1983.

Derren invited 12 students to participate in the night’s events. All of them responded to advertisements placed around different universities and only those were chosen, who were open minded about the paranormal. They were not let in on any of the details in advance and only know that the goal of the evening is to attempt a séance.

We get informed that the practice of séances dates back to the 19th century, when three sisters under the name of Fox claimed that they were able to contact the dead. They demonstrated their ability to countless people and attracted the rich and famous. By the end of the century, séances were common all over the western world. During those séances, objects seemed to move by themselves, ectoplasm emerged from mediums and spirits manifested themselves in front of people’s eyes.

After 40 years of this, one of the sisters, Margaret Fox, admitted that the séances were a fraud and the seemingly paranormal phenomena was achieved through trickery. Despite of the confession, the popularity of spiritualism didn’t suffer and it still is taken serious by many people until this day.

Derren explains to the camera, that he himself in not a believer, but is highly interested in the techniques used by Victorian frauds.

He finally meets the students, leads them into an auditorium and asks the group to think of a loved one who passed away. A girl nods, obviously having someone in mind, so he immediately chooses her for his first experiment. He says that she is probably thinking about an old lady, who is fairly short and wears big glasses, while the girl continuously nods with an impressed expression on her face. He mentions flowers and she tells him that her deceased grandmother had a flower shop. He then asks whether her name was Laura and she corrects him, saying that it was Nora, but is still touched by the proximity of his guesses.

At this point, Derren reveals that this was just a fraudulent trick and that he is actually a skeptic, but wants to use this night to conduct a séance with an open mind.

He explains to the students that this very building has been the location of a tragedy 30 years ago: On February 27th 1974, a clique of 12 students gathered in a room downstairs. Instructed by Nicholas Gadd, a young charismatic man, they drank bleach and all died, except for Gadd himself who moved to Australia and died in a car crash years later.

Since then, over 40 reports of paranormal activity and hauntings have been made concerning this building.

For his next demonstration, Derren introduces the spirit cabinet, a box enclosed by curtains, that would traditionally contain a medium who would be tied up and restrained inside. Bizarre phenomena would occur there, seemingly outside of the medium’s control.

He places a tambourine and paper on a table inside the cabinet and chooses Jess, a girl from the student group, to sit down on a chair next to the table. He puts her in a trance state and closes the curtains.

Shortly after, we can hear a dropping sound and once Derren has reopened the curtains, we can see that the tambourine is lying on the floor. He asks the entranced girl whether she touched it, but she insists that she didn’t. He closes the curtains again and this time the tambourine comes flying out and lands in the audience. When Derren wakes Jess up and asks whether she threw it, she still insists that she has not touched it. At this point, Derren reveals that a CCTV camera has been filming her from above. The group reviews the footage and sees her manipulating the tambourine, much to the shock of Jess, who can’t believe what she is seeing. Derren explains that this is an example of unconscious fraud induced by a trance state.

Next, he puts a male student into the cabinet but restrains him with a belt and doesn’t hypnotize him. Shortly after the curtains are closed, paper flies into the air and we can hear the student scream his lungs out. Derren rushes to open the curtains. The male student is clearly in a state of panic, but claims to not know why and that he just felt like he had to get out of the cabinet.

After this unnerving introduction of the night’s experiments, the group switches to another room, where they all stand around a round table. Before they begin with the next experiment, Derren sends one student, Sally, to the corridor “G”, where 10 of the 12 students who lost their lives, stayed at. All rooms located in that corridor are all completely dark. He instructs her to choose the room that draws her in most. After examining the corridor, she chooses one room, sits down on a chair and takes up a whiteboard and pen that has been left there for her.

Afterwards, Derren is ready to begin the next step. He explains that many mediums claim that they can tell details of someone’s life just by looking at photos of them alone. He hands out photos of the students who committed suicide and lays them out on the table.

He asks the students to feel which of the photos draws them in most. This is the spirit that has chosen to come forth to communicate with them tonight. Then he chooses one girl to take a whiteboard and try automatic writing. He explains that automatic writing is the practice of putting a pen onto paper and letting your hand wander, supposedly without conscious awareness but rather let a spirit move through you to write out a message.

He puts the student into a trance and asks the spirit to reveal which city he/she used to live in. He asks Sally over a loudspeaker to do the same thing. Both girls, independently from each other, write “London”. The group is impressed and Derren admits that two out of the twelve students did indeed live in London, but he is not yet going to reveal who.

For the next form of spiritualistic practice, the group goes into another room, where they find a table with cut out letters and a wineglass in the middle – a Ouija board. Derren instructs three students to put their fingers on the glass and asks whether a spirit is present. After a while, the glass starts to move slowly and ends up at the letter Y for “Yes”. All three involved students swear they are not pushing the glass. Next, they ask for the name of the spirit and it spells out “Jane”, with the glass moving faster and faster. The students seem freaked out, as most of them reveal that they have been drawn in by Jane when examining the photos of the deceased students.

They receive an envelope which contains more information about Jane and find out that she was indeed from London and was staying at room G7, the very room Sally chose and is currently sitting in.

When Sally hears about this, she panics and is allowed to leave the room, joining the others once again.

Together, they go to the former room of Nicholas Gadd, where the suicide pact was carried out. They all sit down around a long table. The room is completely dark except for 3 lit candles. A bell is placed on the table, which as Derren explains was used in séances for the spirits to ring to make their arrival known. There is also a trophy cup from the year the suicides took place. The idea is to use objects from a time that is familiar to the spirit. Beside the two objects, there is also a séance ball, which is very light and therefore very easy for a spirit to affect. All three objects are painted with fluorescent paint and therefore can be seen in the dark.

Derren takes out blank cards and draws a cross on one of them. He spreads them out on the table with the cross down and asks the students to choose one card each. The student who gets the card with the cross, will be the medium of the séance, who will channel the spirit of Jane and will have her answer through their body. Holly, one of the female students, gets the card with the cross, making her the medium.

All members of the group join hands as Derren blows one candle after the other out and instructs them to breathe in unison and to move their mind into a welcoming state. He asks Holly to tell Jane that she is welcome and she complies, although clearly with fear in her face.

Derren then asks Jane to make her presence known by moving one of the objects on the table, when suddenly the cup falls over and the bell starts ringing. The students scream as the shadow of the floating cup can be seen on their faces. They are all horrified, but stay in their seats and keep the circle unbroken.

Click here to unfold the remaining story (SPOILER WARNING)

Finally, Derren asks Holly how old she is, hoping that Jane will come through. “Six”, she answers in a childlike voice. She describes how happy she is and that she is staying in her house with lots of friends around. Derren then asks her whether he can talk to her when she is older and she comes back stating that she is now 15. He asks her about her cat and she says that it’s name is Harry. He then asks how her grandma is and she says “poorly”. She says that her grandma lives in London and that her father is a builder.

At this point, Derren thanks Jane for the conversation and says goodbye. As Holly snaps out of the trance, she screams, startling the group. Derren rushes to turn the light back on and everyone slowly calms down. Holly says that she remembers giving the answers but has no idea where they came from. She also saw and felt movements around and inside her.

The girl sitting next to her, who knows Holly personally, also insists that her way of talking was very different than normally, suggesting that a spirit really did take over her body.

After the séance is over, the group pulls out a letter and a dvd from the envelope. The dvd contains footage from Jane’s life and the letter is written by her brother, who talks about how Jane was always a very caring person and how she often took the train to London to care for her grandma during her illness. Even as a child, she pretended that her cat Harry was sick so that she could take care of him. She also took care of her dad after his early retirement from his work as a builder. The group is once again blown away by the accuracy of the results they could achieve during their séance.

Nonetheless, Derren reminds the group that their experiences during this evening were the results of an elaborate set up and not at all paranormal. He, for example, arranged the photos in such a way that any person most probably would be drawn in by Jane, and the movements of the glass on the Ouija board are caused by something called the ideomotor effect.

Derren walks out of the room and gets the woman impersonating Jane, who is sitting in a van close to the building – very much alive and well. It finally becomes clear that the whole story about the suicide pact is not based in reality but was just a tool to get the student group into the right mindset.

Derren Brown as the host

Stefan Stuckert

Derren Brown: Séance (2004) on IMDB

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.