‘Things Heard & Seen’ movie review: Amanda Seyfried chiller takes a neat twist

Things aren’t exactly as they seem in Things Heard & Seen, a new thriller starring Amanda Seyfried now streaming on Netflix. While the film starts out as a familiar haunted house thriller, it slowly twists into something much more interesting, and first-rate handling from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ensures that we stick along for the ride.

Things Heard & Seen stars Seyfried as Catherine Claire, a painter who moves to the Hudson Valley with her husband Geroge (James Norton) and young daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) in 1980 when George takes a new position at a prestigious university.

But something isn’t quite right with their new home, a stately and mostly isolated farmhouse manor. There’s a faint odor of gasoline, creaky bumps in the night, and yes, even the ghostly image of a woman seen by both mother and daughter within days of moving in.

And as Seyfried’s character investigates the history of her new home – consulting microfiche at the local library, which was the only method of research in the pre-internet era – and holding seances with the Dean of the local college, Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham), Things Heard & Seen starts to take a familiar shape.

Catherine discovers that bad things might have surrounded the original owners of the house, and then she discovers that even more bad things happened to the previous owners of the house, whose two sons (played by Alex Neustaedter and Jack Gore) are still… hanging around, and offer Catherine some help around the house.

The first half of Things Heard & Seen is not only an overly-familiar haunted house setup, it’s also completely devoid of scares: the benevolent ghost just sits there, and any sense of threat slowly evaporates as Catherine uncovers her story.

But the second half of the film starts going in another direction entirely, and leads up to a finale that is both unexpected and largely satisfying, a neat feat considering the supernatural elements of the movie that initially drove the narrative take a backseat.

While we wonder why so many scenes in the first half of the film are devoted to Catherine’s unlikable husband, who starts up an affair with one of his young students (played by Stranger ThingsNatalia Dyer), Things Heard & Seen starts to take shape as the film’s second half goes in a different direction.

Netflix audiences familiar with the usual haunted house stuff, or expecting more terror in this ghost story, might be tempted to abandon the film early on. But a first-rate production, with rich period detail and atmospheric lensing from cinematographer Larry Smith (Only God Forgives), keeps us tuned in.

Some terrific performances also keep us hooked; Seyfried’s frightened-but-curious lead is particularly empathetic in the lead, but Norton also hits the right notes in a difficult role as the husband. The excellent Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul) and James Urbaniak (The Venture Brothers) have small (but key) roles as a neighbor couple that befriend the Claires.

Things Heard & Seen was written and directed by husband-and-wife filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who made a splash in 2003 with the wonderful Harvey Pekar biopic American Splendor but have failed to capture that magic in subsequent features. Their latest film doesn’t entirely break that mold, but it’s a first-rate production that represents their finest work in nearly two decades.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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