THINGS HEARD & SEEN (2021), a new Netflix ghost story thriller starring Amanda Seyfried was better than I expected.
Which isn’t saying much since I went in with low expectations. It’s getting bad reviews, and its trailer was meh, but this one isn’t half bad. In fact, there’s a lot I liked about it. And the only reason I didn’t love it is the direction it takes during its second half is much more formulaic and forced than its intriguing and mysterious first act.
Married couple Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) and George Claire (James Norton) and their young daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) relocate to rural upstate New York when George accepts a new professorship at a prestigious private college. It’s a tough move for Catherine as she leaves behind a thriving career as an art restorer, but she feels she should support her husband. They move into an old farmhouse with a long history behind it, and it’s not long before both Catherine and Franny begin to see and hear things which make them believe the house is haunted. George, on the other hand, wants no part of what he views as fanciful imaginings.
But the folks around them aren’t so dismissive. George’s department head, Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham) is very open to the possibility of hauntings and even suggest to Catherine that they hold a seance inside the house. And George’s fellow professor Justine (Rhea Seehorn) takes a liking to Catherine and becomes very sympathetic to her needs.
And as they begin to learn that perhaps this spirit isn’t an evil one, but one who’s trying to protect Claire, we begin to learn that hubby George isn’t quite the man everyone thinks he is.
And there’s your plot of THINGS HEARD & SEEN. The first half works much better than the second. The story it tells early on is quite captivating, in spite of the “been there done that” ghost story elements. The characters in this movie are all rather interesting, and they held my interest deep into this movie.
But as George emerges as the main villain in the film’s latter stages, the movie becomes more farfetched and much less enjoyable. And the ending is very disappointing and is by far the weakest part of the movie.
I’m a big fan of Amanda Seyfried, and I enjoy her in nearly every movie she is in, even the bad ones. She’s coming off her Oscar nominated supporting performance as Marion Davies in MANK (2020). Before that she starred with Kevin Bacon in another “haunted house” thriller YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020) which wasn’t very good. I enjoyed THINGS HEARD & SEEN more. And while the MAMA MIA! (2008) star has been in a ton of movies, probably my favorite performance by Seyfried was her portrayal of Linda Lovelace in LOVELACE (2013).
Here, in THINGS HEARD & SEEN, Seyfried knocks it out of the park once again. Her portrayal of the ever increasing anxious and suspicious wife is imbued with strength, and she never ever becomes a frightened victim, which is why her ultimate fate in this movie is so disappointing and the worst part of the film.
James Norton, playing a role that is a far cry from his portrayal of John Brooke in LITTLE WOMEN (2019) is sufficiently sinister as the hubby who isn’t what he seems but doesn’t care because he seemingly can get away with anything.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN boasts a strong supporting cast. Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler on BETTER CALL SAUL (2015-2022), is solid here as Justine, a character who takes on a more prominent role as the film goes along.
Natalia Dyer, Nancy on STRANGER THINGS (2016-2021) is excellent here as Willis, a college student who crosses paths with George and becomes an object of his lust. It’s an interesting role because Willis can’t stand George but she has sex with him anyway. Dyer makes the most of a small role.
Karen Allen shows up as real estate agent Mare Laughton, and later she shares some crucial scenes with husband and sheriff Pat (Dan Daily).
Alex Neustaedter plays Eddie Vale, a young man whose parents lived in the house before George and Catherine and who also met with a terrible fate. Vale and Catherine eventually have an affair of their own. Neustaedter’s scenes with Amanda Seyfried are some of the best in the movie.
And F. Murray Abraham adds class as department head Floyd DeBeers.
While I found the first half of this movie intriguing, none of it is all that frightening, which works against this being a thriller. It works better as a drama/mystery than a haunted house thriller. The scares just aren’t there.
The seance scene is also rather ridiculous. If spirits spoke this freely and easily we’d be giving them smart phones. Speaking of smart phones, they’re not in this movie since it takes place in 1980. Why? I have no idea. It just does.
The film is beautifully shot by directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. They capture the beauty of the rural countryside, and they do some nice things with the ghosts in this one, as the spirits and their spectral presences are often captured with lighting effects that imply warmth and love as opposed to evil. Again, intriguing, but not scary.
They also wrote the screenplay, based on the novel All Things Cease To Appear by Elizabeth Brundage. They do a great job creating captivating characters, but run into trouble devising a plot that holds its weight for the entire two hour running time.
Thematically, I get it. Women are frequently victims of powerful men, and there seems to be no change in this pattern, but in terms of the story told in this movie, with such a strong main character, Amanda Seyfried’s Catherine, I can’t help but wish the writers had decided to take this one in a different direction.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN is a well-acted drama/mystery with a talented cast, led by Amanda Seyfried, and its first half is very watchable, but as its script becomes more formulaic, its second half struggles to keep things going. The result is a mixed bag of a movie that I liked well enough but certainly can’t say that I loved.
Endings remain a challenge for writers of film and fiction ghost stories…Maybe we are too “sophisticated” for our own good..