Things Heard & Seen is a haunted house horror-mystery written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, based on the novel All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage. Streaming on Netflix from today, the movie stars Amanda Seyfried and James Norton as artist Catherine and her art history tutor hubby George, who with their daughter Franny relocate from Manhattan to a remote, run-down farm in the Hudson Valley (a property with history… cough, cough). The film opens with a quote from Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (“This I can declare… things that are in heaven are more real than things that are in the world”) and although movies beginning with quotes can be pretentious, the inclusion of Swedenborg’s book in the film’s narrative means this isn’t the case. Although devoid of pretentiousness, this concept feels very familiar and hackneyed. Set in 1980, the sets and costumes successfully evokes that period of time, but the plot and tone feels very much like a film from that era (The Amityville Horror meets The Changeling) although it’s not as scary as either of these movies, instead resembling more of a drama than a horror, mystery or thriller thanks largely to the sedate pace and drab piano score.
Things Heard & Seen takes me back to my art history class in college which I hated with a passion. Thankfully, this film is a little different. I don’t despise this movie; during the first act I felt gripped although this dissipates the further the plot goes and the more you learn. In terms of genre conventions, there’s some atmosphere and a few jump-scares thanks to the ghostly apparitions. The look of the ghosts is a bit of a let-down however, either because the actor who plays the previous occupant doesn’t possess great acting skills or because the realisation of her resembles a giant black and white photograph (or both). Catherine’s digging-into the house’s past followed by a séance veers into cliché and the séance itself doesn’t reach the scares of The Changeling, opting instead, for false-looking CGI over real-life simplicity.
I’ll point out that I haven’t read the book on which this is based but the resulting film is a story that never gets anywhere; you click “play” thinking it’ll be a horror-thriller, a conventional horror-thriller but hopefully a scary and thrilling film, but what you end up sitting through is a rather slow flick that feels like a damp squib by the time the credits roll. Aside from the anti-climax, there’s the inclusion of theosophy, art history, bulimia, handymen who can play instruments, a specific book, and a specific painting that all should relate to the goings on, but the script never really explains the relevance of any of these apparent plot devices. The film wanders away from a haunted house to random and unneeded murders; we’re told that if someone kills, their soul is damned but alongside all the other storyline ephemera, we stop caring about half-way through.
In terms of cast, Amanda Seyfried plays the bulimic isolated wife quite well but James Norton, given that he’s a cheating husband and a liar (and worse) is played too sympathetically. This is offset by the always likeable Natalia Dyer, Rhea Seehorn, and F. Murray Abraham but they’re wasting their collective talents here.
If you’re a fan of Seyfried, this is another frustratingly average movie along with the rather boring Mank, the dull Anon, and the disappointing You Should Have Left although there’s nothing as mysterious or as intriguing as “check your angles” here. Berman and Pulcini, the husband and wife writing-directing team have created a somewhat watchable picture, mainly during the first act, and I’ll give them a bit of slack considering it’s their first foray into the horror genre but Things Heard & Seen is another Netflix non-event; it sports a blurb that entices you in but it’s a film that would be a flop if it was shown in the cinema.
Things That Shouldn’t Be Seen