Film

Review: Haunted House Drama Things Heard and Seen Barely Manages a Scare, Any Real Drama

Things Heard and Seen, based on the novel by Elizabeth Brundage, All Things Cease to Appear, is the latest work from the writing/directing team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor; The Extra Man). The film sees a Manhattan couple move from the big city to the sleepy, historic town of Hudson Valley, in upstate New York, so that husband George Clare (James Norton) can take a new teaching job at a local college, while wife Catherine (recent Oscar-nominee Amanda Seyfried) leaves her prestigious art restoration work behind to become a professor’s spouse. She’s justified the demotion because, early in their relationship, George sacrificed a great deal for her career to blossom, so she’s returning the favor. But it’s clear she’s unhappy with the move, deciding to bury herself in projects, including finding out more about their home’s dark history.

Things Heard and Seen

Image credit Anna Kooris/NETFLIX © 2020

The charming George quickly makes friends with fellow staffers, including his department head Floyd (F. Murray Abraham) and fellow professor Justine (Rhea Seehorn), who becomes fast friends with Catherine and quickly begins to distrust George and his relationship with some of his female students. But George seems particularly interested in Willis (Natalia Dyer), a local young woman who is back in town after an extended absence. According to Floyd, this is a community that believes in the local spirits that occupy the town, some of which seem to have taken up residence in the Clare home, as Catherine keeps spotting a female presence in the house whom she believes is the ghost of the original owner from the 1800s now looking out for Catherine. George doesn’t believe in such things though, so Catherine does a great deal of her investigating (and even hosts a seance) while he gone.

Things Heard and Seen isn’t the kind of ghost story we’re used to. It’s not meant to be especially scary; instead, it’s more of a mystery about who the spirit is and why she is making herself known to Catherine. If she’s looking out for her, what is the danger she believes Catherine to be in? At various points, I assumed we were going to find out that the townspeople were all in on the ghostly world, but most of them are fairly normal folks with slightly eccentric beliefs. Also making appearances are Karen Allen and Michael O’Keefe as the local real estate agent and sheriff, respectively. Alex Neustaedter and Jack Gore play the Vayle brothers, who offer to do odd jobs around the Clare home, but we discover that they used to live there before their parents were killed.

Things Heard and Seen ends up feeling more like a skillfully made Hallmark movie than something that might have once played in theaters. The scares are kept to a minimum, the compounding mysteries aren’t that difficult to crack, and even the usually dependable Seyfried seems embarrassed to be in this subpar offering, in which she must endure both a philandering husband and an unnecessary eating disorder. It’s as if the film is hinting around far greater and more deviant secrets about the house and the community that never manifest, and the entire slog is a supreme disappointment. The movie looks good, but it’s all window dressing to cover up a hollow shell of a story.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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