Things Heard and Seen

08/05/21

Netflix

Many films can be accused of not having enough going on but, in the case of Things Heard and Seen, there’s the opposite problem. There’s so much happening here the movie’s creators can’t seem to make their mind up exactly what they want this to be. In its early stages, it looks like it’s setting out its stall as a straightforward haunted house tale – but, as the convoluted storyline unfolds, it becomes much more than that. And really, this should be a positive development, because, let’s face it, there’s hardly a shortage of those. Ultimately, however, it’s TH & S’s ambition that makes it overreach itself.

It’s 1980 and Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) is working happily as an art restorer (though she’s experiencing an ongoing battle with an eating disorder). Then her husband, George (James Norton), qualifies as a lecturer in fine art and promptly lands a job in Chosen, upstate New York. Almost before Catherine knows what’s happening, the couple and their young daughter have relocated to a remote farmhouse, one that by all accounts comes with a sinister backstory. Catherine feels isolated here, but is determined to make the best of things. The couple have the house renovated and even find part time jobs for Eddie Vayle (Alex Neustaedter) and his younger brother, Cole (Jack Gore), who actually grew up in the house – though George keeps this fact a secret from his wife.

George starts his classes and is an instant hit, both with his young female students and with his department head, Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham), who, it turns out, has a bit of a passion for the occult. Catherine starts experiencing troubling visions in the homestead – flashing lights, eerie whispers and glimpses of a sinister woman. And then it emerges that George might not be quite the charming, artistic academic that Catherine has always believed him to be…

Writers/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini never seem quite sure which direction they want to head in next, and opt instead to veer left and right, trying to cover all the bases. The acting is mostly good (Norton in particular is deliciously villainous) and even minor characters are afforded plenty of characterisation, right down to Karen Allen’s realtor, Mare Laughton and Rhea Seahorn’s inquisitive neighbour, Justine. And, to the film’s credit, there are some scenes here that are genuine surprises.

But somehow the overall story arc fails to gel and several of the plot developments we’re asked to accept are frankly pushing credulity a little too far.

As it thunders headlong into its final third, all credibility has pretty much gone out of the window, and the last scene demonstrates a conceit that must have been in the author’s mind from the very beginning. It feels shoehorned in and makes for a disappointing conclusion to what has mostly been a decent enough entertainment. 

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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