When her husband gets a teaching job in upstate New York, an artist and her family move into a remote old farmhouse. Soon after moving it, it becomes clear they are not alone in the house. It’s up to the artist to solve the mystery of the home’s sinister past and determine if the ghostly inhabitant is friend or foe.
Writer-director duo Shari Springer Berman (American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries) and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries) took on adapting Elizabeth Brundage’s novel, All Things Cease to Appear. Things Heard & Seen tells the story of Catherine, a successful artist living with her husband and daughter in New York in the early 1980’s. Catherine leaves her successful life and career in the city behind so her husband can take a teaching job at a small university in upstate New York. As strange occurrences plague their new home, Catherine learns more about the dark history of the house and those who inhabited it before her. The house gradually infects every aspect of their lives, leading to a haunting conclusion.
Much of the mythos established in Things Heard & Seen is wonderful and fascinating. It combines elements of art and the supernatural in unique ways. It allows for interesting symbolism while also providing context for the strange happenings within the farmhouse. The filmmakers also use this mythos to gradually build tension within the walls of that remote home and within the family unit. The way the relationship between Catherine and her husband becomes more and more strained throughout the film is one of the tensest aspects of the film. The film also manages to throw in a few surprises that will leave audiences yelling at their TV.
Despite what is enjoyable about this film, there are still negative aspects. One of the most disappointing of these is the way Catherine was written. Her character is likeable, but there isn’t much character development for her. Her personality can be summed up as artist, mother, believer in higher powers and the supernatural, and a sufferer of an eating disorder. Of all of these, the filmmakers choose to rely heavily on her beliefs and the fact that she is bulimic, yet the bulimia seems to only act as a reason for people to gaslight Catherine. While the majority of Things Heard & Seen is suspenseful and intriguing, the final act falters. There is too much reliance on symbolism and imagery to tie up loose ends rather than providing a cohesive, satisfying conclusion to the film. It’s unfortunate as the story leading up to this point is thoroughly enjoyable.
The film has a wonderful cast who all deliver great performances. Amanda Seyfried (Jennifer’s Body, Mean Girls) stars as Catherine. Despite that lack of character development, Seyfried is able to endear the audience to Catherine. She is a flawed human, but it is clear that she is a good person and a wonderful mother. James Norton (Little Women, Flatliners) plays Catherine’s husband, George. What makes Norton’s performance so great is that he is able to make viewers truly despise George. He goes from mildly sexist in the beginning to a truly horrible person who represents everything bad in men. These two have an interesting dynamic that changes as the plot progresses. Other memorable performances come from Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul), Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things), F. Murray Abraham (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Alex Neustaedter (A-X-L).
The visuals of Things Heard & Seen are quite striking. Because the two main characters are both artists, there is a lot of artwork incorporated into the film. There is one specific artist, who is noted in the film for his belief in how everything in our world has a connection to the supernatural world, whose work is seen throughout the film. When it comes to the strange occurrences, the filmmakers take a more minimalistic approach. Light and shadow is often the primary indicator of a spirit being in the room or a quick glimpse of a person who shouldn’t be there. The only problem with the visuals is when the filmmakers rely too heavily on that symbolism and metaphorical imagery at the end of the film.
Things Heard & Seen crafts an intimate tale of family secrets and suspense. Berman and Pulcini do a great job of building the suspense and throwing one surprise after the other at audiences. But the plot is ultimately hindered by not giving Catherine enough character development and relying on wild imagery to end the film in an open-ended way. Luckily, the performances from the entire cast are great and the actors manage to elicit strong emotions from the viewers. The end might leave some unhappy, but the film leading up to those final moments is a compelling mystery viewers will enjoy trying to solve.
OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10