Things Heard and Seen Review

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Things Heard and Seen Review

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PLOT: A couple (Amanda Seyfried & James Norton) moves to a small town when the husband acquires a prestigious university post. When there, they acquire an old house with a dark history that mirrors their troubled marriage.

REVIEW: At first glance, THINGS HEARD AND SEEN seems like another haunted house movie, only for Shari Springer Berman and Robert Puccini’s film to subvert expectations and play out as a dark, tortured tale of a marriage gone awry. The paranormal aspect almost feels like an afterthought in this absorbing drama.

Based on the novel All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage, the film takes place in the Hudson Valley circa 1980. Seyfried and Norton are academics with seemingly bright futures once he accepts a post at a rich university, but the cracks become evident right away. She’s bulimic while he’s passive-aggressive and is keen to jump in the sack with any girl who crosses his path, with him trying to pick up Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer at a library despite being there with his kid.

things heard and seen amanda Seyfried

In some ways it’s a companion piece to Berman and Puccini’s own Cinema Verite, which also tackled the destruction of an American family in the seventies, in that case, the Loud family as depicted on PBS’s An American Family. They seem fascinated with the cracks that lie beyond the surface of being picture-perfect, especially in that era.

Fans of the supernatural will still be served though, with the house they move into having a history of husbands murdering their wives. Norton’s boss at the university, played by F. Murray Abraham, turns out to be an aspiring spiritualist, convincing Seyfried to let him hold a seance – always a bad idea in movies like this. In a neat twist, he’s portrayed as a good guy, while the spirits themselves may also not be ill-intentioned. Rather, the film goes down a more atypical path, with the horror on display being of the very human sort.

While the fact that it’s not scary will put off some horror fans, it should be noted that Things Heard and Seen isn’t a failed thriller. People are probably used to anything involving spirits being horror, but that’s not the case here. Rather it’s about the cycle of abuse and the haunted house aspect, in a way, is metaphorical. If I have any complaint it’s that Norton’s character is insufferable from the start, making it hard to believe he could charm his way into academia or Seyfried’s heart. She’s terrific in this, with it being a strong showcase for her talent. She’s been getting better and better lately, with this part of a great run that includes First Reformed and Mank. Abraham is extremely likable as the sweet old university dean, thrilled to get a chance to dip his toe into the supernatural, while Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn has a nice role as another academic who becomes Seyfried’s fast friend. Great character actors pop up all over the place in this, including Karen Allen, Michael O’Keefe, while young Alex Neustaedter is impressive as the good-natured twenty-something doing carpentry for the couple who carries a torch for Seyfried.

With its rich characters and mostly top-shelf acting, plus some really attractive cinematography by Nicolas Winding Refn favorite Larry Smith, Things Heard and Seen is an unexpectedly solid Netflix entry. Again – it’s not horror but it is quite a good little film.

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