Things Heard and Seen is a 2021 Netflix original released at the end of April. It’s part gothic horror, part supernatural drama, part thriller, with a bit of art history and religious iconography thrown in. While it sounds interesting, sadly this eclectic mix of themes and genres makes for nothing more than a rather confusing watch.
The film starts at the end, as we see George Claire (James Norton) arrive home at the family farm to blood dripping into his garage from the room above. He rushes upstairs, grabs his daughter Franny and runs across a field with her in his arms. The story then jumps back to the year before, where we see George, Franny and his wife Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) in an apartment in New York hosting a party for Franny’s birthday. George reveals he’s been offered a job teaching at a college in Saginaw, and despite Catherine’s reluctance and reservations, whisks his family to a new home in a farmhouse.
George initially excels at his job, even winning over his department head Floyd (F Murray Abraham) while Catherine feels progressively isolated and lonely. She befriends local brothers and handymen Eddie (Alex Neustaedter) and Cole (Jack Gore) and also wins over George’s colleague Justine (Rhea Seehorn). However, things begin to unravel, with Catherine experiencing supernatural occurrences in her home that George refuses to believe, while he enters into an affair with local girl Willis (Natalia Dyer). Soon we discover that George is not what he seems as we learn about his past and his lies, which have dire consequences on his family.
The biggest flaw with this film is that the mix of genres and themes makes for a very confusing watch, and also means that a lot of the aspects are rather half baked. The supernatural elements especially are given fairly short shrift, and those we see are very clichéd – rocking chairs, flickering lights – it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and sadly it’s not even the slightest bit scary. The development during the film of these supernatural aspects isn’t fully realised either and makes you wonder why they even bothered including these in the story. As a thriller drama with religious iconography and art history, this could’ve worked much better, but the supernatural elements really threw this off course and lost everything else. Admittedly even as a drama, the plot was quite predictable. You knew who the characters were going to sleep with and who likely wouldn’t survive due to their actions, and due to the rather tiresome plot mechanism of starting at the end, you virtually know the outcome of the entire story in advance.
That said, the acting and the entire production at least boost the confused and lacklustre plot. Amanda Seyfried shines as Catherine, bringing a believable and well-rounded performance to a tormented character, and her scenes with George’s colleagues Floyd and Justine are the most enjoyable of the whole film. The cinematography is well done too and aside from a sketchy handheld camera scene, the entire film looks great, which makes it more frustrating that the storytelling doesn’t live up to the cast and crew’s potential.
Things Heard and Seen had a lot of promise, but sadly this was squandered by a plot that tries to do much and in the end, doesn’t give us anywhere near enough.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!