A slow burn from start to finish, Things Heard & Seen boasts great performances from a stellar cast and very interesting ideas, yet it fails to entertain its audience enough to reach true greatness.
Written by Becca Johnson
Set in the 1980's and starring the extremely talented Amanda Seyfried and James Norton in lead roles, Things Heard & Seen tells the story of a family of three who move to a remote home after husband George lands a new job. Wife Catherine, feeling very alone and isolated, begins to discover that things may not be as they seem, not only in her new home but in her marriage.
Most movie viewers are already aware of the talent behind James Norton (Little Women) and recent Academy Award nominee Amanda Seyfried (Mank), and this movie indicates said talent well. We see George and Catherine go from a seemingly normal and happy married couple to two individuals with very different ideologies and beliefs, often causing riffs between them. George is very stuck in his ways and dismissive of Catherine's more open and supernatural views, causing a lack of understanding between the pair. Catherine struggles to open up to her husband which increases her loneliness, as George continually accuses her of being crazy. The exploration of relationship breakdown was masterfully done, with Seyfried and Norton mostly being to thank. All side characters were well written, interesting and acted beautifully, Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul) and F. Murray Abraham (The Grand Budapest Hotel) being standouts.
Things Heard & Seen also shows off a beautiful setting. The story takes us around the quiet community of Chosen, New York, which has gorgeous houses, rivers and a stable that all make for a unique viewing experience with great scenery. Unique is an adjective that can be used not only in description of the setting, but the story-line as a whole. The religious theme makes for an interesting topic, and the discourse it gives us about the supernatural is a rarity for the horror genre. The movie describes spirits in a positive way, the characters assuming that all spirits are good and nothing to fear, unless the occupants of the house allow evil to enter. This gives a good discussion of humanity and how we view the unseen, showing that maybe our actions are to blame for spirits taking a negative turn, rather than following the 'ghosts are bad' trope that Hollywood usually presents.
Unfortunately, this is the only idea that seems to be explored well, and when the movie does try to go deeper the discussions remain very surface level. The script makes it clear that Catherine has an eating disorder, by showing various scenes of her throwing up after food and her gas-lighting husband making remarks about her skipping meals. The script fails to delve into the illness properly, making it merely seem like a way for her husband to hurt and belittle her. There is also a running theme of domestic abuse towards the women of the house, not only towards Catherine herself but previous occupants who have met their demise in grizzly ways. This isn't explored well enough to have anything important to say, with no true repercussions for the abusers.
There is a large reason why the majority of audiences will be underwhelmed by Things Heard & Seen: nothing happens until the third act. Although we learn more about our characters as the story goes on and there's a clear sense of mystery, it just isn't interesting enough to warrant how slow the pace truly is. The characters constantly disrespecting each other and being generally unlikable becomes boring quite quickly. There is nowhere near enough scare or thrills for this to be considered a horror movie, so those expecting nightmares will be let down. The ending is pretty underwhelming, though as the movie is based on a novel, this might be why it doesn't seem to fit; some scenes struggle to translate on-screen and are best left in the book.
All in all, Things Heard & Seen has a lot of potential with its religious connotations, beautiful setting, unique outlook on the supernatural and engaging performances from the entire cast. However, viewer discretion is advised for lack of scares, a painfully slow pace, surface level discussions and most importantly, abusive men. Those that enjoy a slow burn may find something here, though many will just see it as a dull horror that once again over-uses the 'husband gone crazy' trope.