While Shudder has stepped up its distribution of older and original horror content, Netflix continues to be fickle on the genre. To date, the streaming giant hasn’t unveiled much in the way of original horror offerings in 2021. Now its latest release, Things Heard & Seen, promises some pedigree for their horror menu. Based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel, All Things Cease to Appear, the Netflix feature boasts an impressive cast from top to bottom and gorgeous production values. Whether it’s truly a horror movie has sparked some debate. And early reviews haven’t been very kind.
When her husband George gets a job teaching art history at a private college, Catherine Claire uproots her life in New York to move to the Hudson Valley countryside along with their daughter. Soon after their arrival, Catherine senses a supernatural presence in the house. Though George dismisses her beliefs, Catherine delves deeper into the house’s history – a history that includes the deaths of women over generations. As George betrayals of their marriage become exposed, Catherine believe the house’s spirits are reaching out to save her, not harm her.
Things Heard & Seen A Tale of Two Different Meetings
With no familiarity of its source material, it’s difficult to pinpoint just where Things Heard & Seen goes wrong. Did husband and wife director-writer duo Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman alter or misinterpret Brundage’s novel? Or is this is a case of a novel too difficult to translate to the screen? Regardless Things Heard & Seen ultimately feels like a movie struggling to find a consistent tone. In spite of marketing materials promoting it as a mix of horror and drama, there’s very little horror here. Aside from occasional flickering lights and a séance scene, Things Heard & Seen makes little effort to be scary. For most of its two-hour runtime, Springer Berman and Pulcini regulate the horror elements to the distant background.
In spite of marketing materials promoting it as a mix of horror and drama, there’s very little horror here.
As a drama about a deteriorating marriage, Things Heard & Seen fares much better. From its opening scene, Springer Berman and Pulcini hint that the Claire’s perfect marriage is a façade. Some of the movie’s most gripping moments are watching as the layers of George’s deceit get peeled away. Thought it’s something of a ‘Dirty John’ story ploy, George’s increasing desperation as the walls close in around him adds far more suspense than the supernatural elements. Moreover, it’s this story direction that gives the movie what is a truly brutal, shocking moment. Unfortunately, Things Heard & Seen goes off the rails in its final act. That is, the filmmakers’ merging of crime drama and supernatural haunting shifts things into what feels like a Lifetime movie. And that non-ending will likely leave a sour taste in many viewers’ mouthes.
Things Heard & Seen Shows Flickers of Promise
It’s too bad Things Heard & Seen struggles to bring its disparate elements together into a cohesive movie. There are a lot of good ideas floating around and clever bits of foreshadowing. Allusions to the afterlife through the art pieces scattered over the movie factor into the ending. And there’s something potentially poignant with the movie’s idea of generations of murdered women reaching out from beyond the grave to seek justice for one another. Yet Things Heard & Seen fails to flesh out these ideas to the same extent as other recent feminist horror movies (Violation, Lucky, The Power). Too many other story threads murky the storytelling waters.
…James Norton’s transition from smarmy narcissist to squirming weasel is equally gratifying.
One of the consistently best elements of Things Heard & Seen are the performances. As Catherine Claire, Amanda Seyfried (Jennifer’s Body) gives a layered, emotionally complex performance. There’s something satisfying about watching Claire grow from distraught and helpless to defiant and powerful. James Norton’s (Flatliners) transition from smarmy narcissist to squirming weasel is equally gratifying. That you thoroughly detest his character is a testament to the performance. Though they’re only supporting performances, F Murray Abraham (Mimic) and Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul) are both excellent as expected.
Things Heard & Seen Struggles To Find An Audience
Despite its supernatural elements, Things Heard & Seen contains very little horror to satisfy genre fans. On the contrary, Things Heard & Seen makes a much better thriller about a splintering marriage for at least two-thirds of the movie. But then Springer-Berman and Pulcini let things slide into Lifetime hokum. By the time the credits roll on the wholly dissatisfying ending, it’s hard to imagine who might be happy with the movie. Too many elements feel disconnected. As a result, Things Heard & Seen feels like a movie without a target audience in mind.