Things Heard & Seen (2021)
Mistrust Your Senses
Based on the book All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage, Netflix’s new haunted house thriller ties together spiritual elements and domestic drama for a steady cohesion of terror. But with so many elements in the mix, does the story land effectively?
In Things Heard & Seen, Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) sacrifices her artistic career when her husband George (James Norton) is offered a position teaching art history at a private college. The young couple, along with five-year-old daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger), leave Manhattan to move to a small town in upstate New York, but something seems off with their new home. It’s not long before Catherine discovers the 18th-century house has an ominous past and that her husband is also keeping secrets from her.
Benefiting greatly from the performances of the two leads, this gothic horror film’s main focus is on a marriage falling apart. Similar to her last effort in the genre, Amanda Seyfried finds herself in another mysterious home and toxic relationship, but thankfully it’s a step up from 2020’s You Should Have Left. Here, marital turbulence leads to an eating disorder for Catherine, but we get to witness a once delicate character come into her own through the course of the film. She even befriends local orphan Eddy (Alex Neustaedter) to keep her company and give her a hand around the old farmhouse. Norton excels as the charismatic George Claire; the textbook definition of a bad husband. Both Seyfried and Norton put on captivating performances and it’s enjoyable watching their characters develop, for better or for worse.
There’s an uneasiness throughout the two-hour runtime, thanks to the editing of sequences and movements. The stylized house, located in the Hudson River Valley, is both charming and isolating in appearance. Larry Smith’s brilliant cinematography, matched with impressive camera work by directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, creates a truly chilling atmosphere. While a few of the visual effects don’t exactly hit the mark, the overall tone of the film can be compared to The Amityville Horror, The Shining, and The Conjuring.
With the relationship drama between Catherine and George at the forefront, the spiritual element falls flat. We’re introduced to ghosts that end up doing minimal haunting, and a séance sequence that feels like an afterthought. The film is nicely paced, with a sense of mystery throughout, but the final moments seem rushed and lack intensity. Because there are so many different topics to cover, the film doesn’t feel fully fleshed out. It may have been more successful in the form of a Netflix series.
Even with a few stones left unturned, Thing Heard & Seen manages to make an impression. It’s an atmospheric tale about history repeating itself, showcasing the significance of good over evil. A perfectly adequate entry in the psychological horror genre.
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