Review: why Netflix's 'Things Heard & Seen' fails to thrill despite spooky start

While creepy camerawork and music set the mood, the film, starring Amanda Seyfried and James Norton, fails to build the story

Things Heard And Seen: (L-R) James Norton, as George Clare, Amanda Seyfried as Catherine Clare. Cr. Anna Kooris/NETFLIX © 2020.
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Things Heard & Seen

Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton

2/5

There’s a spookiness to Things Heard & Seen right from the get-go.

Writers and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini begin with a creepy quote from 18th-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, which is followed by a slide show of various haunting paintings, all of which is accompanied by Peter Raeburn's unearthly and imposing score.

The film then dives into its story, which revolves around a married couple, George and Catherine, played by James Norton and Amanda Seyfried, and their young daughter. They move from Manhattan to a small town in upstate New York in the spring of 1980, after George gets his first teaching job at a university.

Catherine is unhappy about having relocated, and her uneasiness soon grows after she starts to suspect that their house might be haunted. George dismisses her concerns, even though various unexplained events unfold within its walls that suggest she might be right.

Berman and Pulcini do a fine job of creating an eerie mood for the first hour and 15 minutes of Things Heard & Seen, which is based on Elizabeth Brundage's book of the same name.

As well as Raeburn’s music, Larry Smith’s dimly lit and subtly sinister cinematography slowly starts to reel viewers in, especially as the peculiar incidents increase.

At first there's an unfamiliar smell, then lights around the house start to explode, the radio randomly turns on and, before long, Catherine is having terrifying nightmares.

Amanda Seyfried as Catherine Clare in 'Things Heard & Seen'. Netflix
Amanda Seyfried as Catherine Clare in 'Things Heard & Seen'. Netflix

Meanwhile the previous occupants begin talking to her from beyond the grave and she organises a seance.

The more disturbing actions, though, are reserved for George. But they have absolutely nothing to do with the house. Instead, his wife's reactions to the spine-chilling events bring out his toxic masculinity. Not only does he start to gaslight her, but his frustrations, aggression and overbearingness all emerge, causing her to question her marriage, as well as worry about her immediate safety.

Norton and Seyfried do fine jobs with their performances. She authentically manages to mask Catherine’s vulnerabilities and concerns with an eagerness to fit in, while his descent into a genuine threat happens in a progressive and believable manner.

Ultimately, though, neither their portrayals, nor Things Heard & Seen's initially intriguing ideas and creepy approach, ever actually manage to get under your skin.

Part of that is undoubtedly down to Things Heard & Seen itself. But it also doesn't help that horror films are at their most effective and captivating when they're screened in the darkness of a cinema, rather than in the comfort of your own home on Netflix.

What is most definitely the fault of the filmmakers, though, is how quickly Things Heard & Seen disintegrates into outright tedium.

Over the course of its final third, all of its curious themes fail to build into anything remotely interesting, while even its plot becomes disappointingly plain.

The film's final few minutes are handled in a relatively thought-provoking and interpretive manner. It's just a shame that by then, you'll have long passed the point of actually caring how it ends.

Things Heard & Seen is on Netflix now

Things Heard & Seen

Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton

2/5