April 30th, 2021
MOVIE: THINGS HEARD & SEEN
STARRING: AMANDA SEYFRIED, JAMES NORTON, RHEA SEEHORN, NATALIA DYER, KAREN ALLEN, F. MURRAY ABRAHAM
DIRECTED BY: SHARI SPRINGER BERMAN, ROBERT PULCHINI
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
There is nothing more disappointing than a movie that does a lot of good things and then completely botches the ending. In Things Heard & Seen, there’s plenty of positives in the first hour and thirty minutes, a movie set in 1980, about a married couple that moves to the New York countryside, and when they get there, they start to notice that their new home might be haunted by spirits. It also begins to reveal itself that the husband might not be the person we initially thought he was. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulchini directed and co-wrote the screenplay, based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel All Things Cease to Appear, in a mixture of marital discourse, hidden family secrets, and evil spirits lurking at night. The build up in Things Heard & Seen is thrilling and a haunting idea of how a loved one can conceal themselves in plain sight. Any of that good fortune is ruined when the final result is a highly messy horror movie.
Amanda Seyfried (off her recent Oscar nomination for Mank) plays Catherine Claire, an artist and mother of one, struggling her own fight with bulimia, and living in New York City with husband George (James Norton). The decision to move upstate has arrived because George recently accepted a position to teach at a small college called Whiton, and although there’s been that early marital divide, Catherine feels she owes it to her husband to go where he wants. They arrive at their old cottage home, in need of some fixing, and on the first night spooky things occur. Lights flickering, odd smells coming from the garage, and a possible spirit watching over them. As time passes, Catherine and George attempt to become closer with neighbors, members of the staff at the college, and portray the image of a happy home.
One evident part of Things Heard & Seen is that it’s a well made film, with ominous shifts in the settings, with cinematographer Larry Smith doing a strong job with camera angles and revealing figures in mirrors. The screenplay is also intriguing, with the temptation of fidelity testing both husband and wife to reveal their true selves. Catherine sparks a friendship with neighbor and hired hand Eddie Vayle (Alex Neustaedter), which creates obvious sexual tension. Then there is George, using his professor status and good looks to become popular with women at school. He also uses his slimy charm to seduce a local woman working at the horse stable by the name of Willis (Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer). It’s with each passing moment or chance he gets, where George can social climb, and it becomes obvious that this is not a man anyone wants to be involved with. The narrative in Things Heard & Seen shifts from the fear being haunted by the spirits in the house, to the fear being from the person living in the house. All of that works to a point, but then the mystery falls off the proverbial track.
The problems arrive when various themes begin to intersect, with the idea of life’s purpose, with Catherine believing that the house has a spirit from the past, while George only cares about his human pleasures. The themes of religion, sex, isolation, gender differences, and evil spirits all work, but along the way the focus never comes in sight. It becomes evident with each moment and interactions that Geroge has with various characters, such as other professor Floyd (F. Murray Abraham) and Justine (Rhea Seehorn) that the ghost story should be dropped, because Norton’s performance as George is part Dateline episode, mixed with a Ted Bundy biopic. Following the narrative along sucks you in, which is what makes the ending an even bigger failure for the audience.
I would ultimately call Things Heard & Seen a frustrating and flawed film. Seyfried is good, an actor that is proving she has incredible range. The bigger highlight is James Norton who is straight up creepy. It gave flashbacks of The Talented Mr. Ripley or Ryan Gosling in All Good Things, but those movies figured out a way to give audiences the ending they would want. Things Heard & Seen is easily one of the most frustrating movies of 2021. It has all the right beats, but falters in the end. Maybe the book is better. It might be better to read than to have seen.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN PREMIERES ON NETFLIX THIS THURSDAY APRIL 29TH
Written by: Leo Brady