Review: 'Things Heard & Seen' a shoddy haunted house thriller
Courtesy of Netflix
Adapted from Elizabeth Brundage’s novel “All Things Cease to Appear,” Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s domestic haunted house thriller “Things Heard & Seen” has a few tricks up its sleeve, but most of the confusing mythology – perpetrated through hokey dialogue and foreseeable character motivations – struggles to overcome lame “Amityville Horror” inspirations. Berman and Pulcini can’t decide what type of ghoul story they want to tell with Oscar nominee Amanda Seyfried, which between this and “You Should Have Left” should maybe stop moving into spooky mansions, steering the ship. The filmmakers try to spruce up their adaptation with elements of intrigue, mystery, and true crime, but most of the substance gets lost in translation.
Seyfried plays Catherine, an ambitious and talented artist leaving behind the city life to follow her husband George (James Norton – very devilish and sadistic with a weak screenplay) on his new venture as an English professor in the rural countryside. From the outset, their lavish new home comes with baggage and Catherine’s motherly instincts take over. Only herself and her young daughter hear and see things lurking in the corridors: someone (or something) is trying to communicate with them. It happens just as two young men arrive to help with landscaping duties and Catherine’s marriage starts to crumble. You can certainly pinpoint which direction this is headed.
The ghosts take a back seat to Catherine and George’s marriage woes as their isolated state of mind lends to a slew of affairs. George begins an unethical courtship with one of his students (played by “Stranger Things” alum Natalie Dyer) and Catherine mingles with the hired help. What begins as an engaging and slightly interesting ghost story, collapses into an operatic snooze fest where characters are stuck in the script’s awkward grasp. George’s descent to madness might as well have a countdown clock in the corner of the screen and Seyfried channels several facial expressions which don’t convey a proper sense of terror (she looks stranded) and the less said of the anticlimactic ending, the better.
The opening sequence starts in media res, so the audience has a sense of where things are heading, making everything sandwiched in between fluff. The directors attempt to throw a few curveballs – “Things Heard & Seen” was inspired by a real-life axe murderer – but none of it contributes to the overall picture (Catherine’s eating disorder is a throwaway subplot used for convenience rather than fleshing out her obvious insecurities). Lester Cohen's slick production design allows for a moody, supernatural setting and several third-act twists hint to what made the novel popular – with topics on Christian theology and renaissance era painters and artists. There’s a solid foundation for what “Things Heard & Seen” is selling, but it can’t salvage an underwhelming mystery stuck on autopilot.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN is now streaming on Netflix.