The 400-Word Review: Things Heard and Seen
By Sean Collier
April 29, 2021
Whether you’re devout, spiritual or secular, don’t push your luck. If, for example, you discover a century-old family Bible in your suspiciously affordable farmhouse — and, upon investigating further, you discover that the last name on the contained family tree is angrily blacked out, marked with the word “damned” — move.
There’s skepticism, then there’s plain stupidity. You are daring an angry ghost by sticking around.
“Things Heard and Seen,” a modern-gothic chiller from writing/directing team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, knows ghosts a lot more than it knows people. Whether that’s on the filmmakers or the source material (the novel All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage) I can’t say; fortunately, somewhat broadly drawn characters aren’t enough to derail a film that’s mostly a celebration of spooky atmosphere.
Our protagonist — both the best acted and most convincingly written of the characters — is Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), a lapsed artist and loving mother. She’s married to George (James Norton), a new college professor short on charm but preposterously high on confidence; they’re relocating from Manhattan to a remote corner of upstate New York for his first proper teaching job.
The winding, somber house they rent — shown to them by a badly underused Karen Allen, who pops back in as a concerned neighbor — is lousy with ghosts, a fact embraced by the spiritualism-obsessed local population. (F. Murray Abraham is a pleasant diversion as George’s department head, who also happens to be big into seances.) “Things Heard and Seen” drifts towards its two main thrusts — the couple’s bad marriage and the identity of the spirits in question — throughout a languid middle act.
The film is obsessed with landscapes — George teaches them and used to draw them, a hobby he has mysteriously given up — and Springer Berman and Pulcini prove skilled at turning their frames into well-composed paintings. The geography and weather of New England are beautifully rendered and mystically regarded; it’s the film’s strongest attribute, aside from Seyfried’s powerful performance.
The story can’t keep up; the marriage dissolves with little justification, and George turns from slight boor to utter louse for no clear reason. (The task is beyond Norton’s talents.) Fortunately, a creepy, cold quality seeps through the film, freezing out its flaws. If you watch “Things Heard and Seen” on a bitter autumn evening, it will have a glimmer of magic.
My Rating: 7/10
“Things Heard and Seen” is streaming on Netflix.