Things Heard & Seen, 2021.
Written and Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Karen Allen, James Norton, Natalia Dyer, Rhea Seehorn, Alex Neustaedter, James Urbaniak, Michael Abbott Jr., Jack Gore, Ana Sophia Heger, Cotter Smith, Kelcy Griffin, Emily Dorsch, Jill Dalton, Elliot Frances Flynn, Joe Lanza, Olivia Boreham-Wing, and F. Murray Abraham.
An artist relocates to the Hudson Valley and begins to suspect that her marriage has sinister darkness, one that rivals her new home’s history.
Things Heard & Seen opens up with a quote from scientist Emmanuel Swedenborg essentially hypothesizing that all living things have a counterpoint existing in the spiritual realm. Adapted from the book by Elizabeth Brundage by screenwriters/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, it’s clear that the supernatural forces at play are meant to contrast the relocated couple of George and Catherine Claire (James Norton and Amanda Seyfried, respectively). And while there is a mild degree of intrigue with the 1980s set plot, once the filmmakers have made it crystal clear to just about everyone watching what the movie is doing, unfortunately, it has nowhere to go but cartoonish insanity that would be annoying if it weren’t so unintentionally hilarious.
George and Catherine are both artistic souls, but opportunity knocks for the former to teach at a university that would see the partners and their young daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) moving into a 19th century Hudson Valley home ready for renovation. As you can probably imagine, one half’s gain is the other half’s sacrifice, although this doesn’t bother Catherine too much considering she’s surrounded by family members with the regressive mindset that she should be grateful George was ever interested in her in the first place. Catherine also struggles with an eating disorder that George tries to help manage by reminding and encouraging her to drink protein shakes. Nevertheless, by relocating Catherine is effectively giving up her own artistic endeavors for the sake of a happy family.
The home also has a mysterious history, one that George is aware of but chooses to hide from Catherine so as not to startle her or make her nervous. By now, it probably sounds like George is a combination of deceitful and manipulative, and you would be right if that’s what you are indeed thinking. Taking place across multiple seasons of the year, Things Heard & Seen doesn’t even get out of spring before the relationship further fractures and George is lusting after a younger local woman named Willis (Stranger Things alumni Natalia Dyer). It’s also not long before Catherine starts, well, seeing and hearing things around the house at night, but considering the neglect and mental abuse at the hands of George, the presence of a ghost might be a good thing in this situation.
It is, as most amusingly the benevolent spirit will bombastic renounce its presence whenever George is lying or pulling out one of his manipulation tactics. Furthermore, without much to do during the day, Catherine decides to look into the historical society for information on the previous owners, while gaining additional knowledge from a relative of those that occupy the home before them, the handsomely charming Eddie Lucks (Alex Neustaedter) who offers up assistance repairing the home alongside his younger brother Cole (Jack Gore) willing to babysit. She also befriends Justine Sokolov (Rhea Seehorn), a free and empowered spirit that George views as a threat to his control.
If there’s anything to like about this setup, it’s how we actually root for Catherine to just cheat on her husband already (she has her own moments of seduction, painting a portrait for Eddie with protruding nipples against her shirt), since it’s evident George doesn’t care and is determined to have an affair. There’s an intriguing detail about Willis that she’s actually attracted to toxic and manipulative men because her lawyer father spent her whole life clearing the name of similarly repugnant guys. She has a cynical worldview where men never receive comeuppance and taking a look around the real world and what’s going on in this movie, it’s not hard to blame her. For whatever reason, nothing is really done with much of her character leaving me to believe her screen time was trimmed down from whatever is in the book.
Throughout the first hour, Things Heard & Seen functions as a middling relationship drama that just happens to have spirits (F. Murray Abraham also plays a coworker of George, conducting a séance in the house). With that said, there are some revelations about George that send the narrative on a downward spiral of ludicrous stupidity. Every few minutes there’s another “is the movie really going this direction” baffling sequence that just doesn’t work because it’s beyond over-the-top. As comical as the performance of James Norton becomes, there’s also not much in the script to really tap into to make it work. The last 30 minutes are astoundingly bad and this is one of the rare examples where I can’t imagine the book being any better. It turns the whole movie into a thing I wish I hadn’t heard or seen.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com