Based on Elizabeth Brundage’s bestseller “All Things Cease to Appear”, the directing couple Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are producing the Netflix thriller THINGS HEARD & SEEN a film that follows long-forgotten genre paths. The result is both attractive and takes getting used to – and therefore anything but bad. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Things Heard & Seen (USA 2021)
The couple Catherine and George Claire (Amanda Seyfried and James Norton) move from the big city of Manhattan to a small town in the Hudson Valley with their little daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger). At first the small family seems to be doing well here. Young Glück enjoys the blooming landscapes, the huge mansion that George, who works here as an art professor, has chosen for his loved ones, and over time Catherine in particular learns to appreciate the company of the villagers. But after a while, the darker side of her relationship with George emerges, who not only flirts heavily with a student (Natalia Dyer), but also doesn’t take seriously the concerns of his wife, who suffers from an eating disorder, that their new house is haunted. Little by little, more and more dark secrets of their new home, but also of George, come to light…
The Disney Group, which now includes various other film studios and brands, is primarily known for its family-friendly entertainment. Adult entertainment has been and continues to be outsourced to this day. Very recently, for example, on the streaming service Disney+, where productions from the studio 20th Century Studios, which has now been swallowed up by the mouse company, are placed in the Star subcategory, which also includes numerous film and series productions for ages 16 and 18. In the past, it was production companies like Miramax (which Disney has since sold again) and Studio Touchstone, which has a distorted Mickey Mouse in its logo, through which the Disney umbrella brand released all those films that didn’t quite fit into their family-friendly portfolio. And so series like “Scream” (Miramax’s sister studio Dimension Films) or cult classics like “Pulp Fiction” (Miramax) are and were “Disney films” in the broadest sense, but were never perceived as such. Very, very rarely, however, it happened that Disney itself released one or two films that were not particularly suitable for children. Productions like John Hough’s horror drama “Screams of the Lost,” Oz Scott’s 45-minute “Mr. Boogedy” or “Evil comes quietly” with the screen legends Jonathan Pryce and Pam Grier were all rated for ages 12 and up, but could be quite disturbing, especially for a young audience. In 2003, Disney tried to recapture that feeling in the Eddie Murphy-starrer The Haunted Mansion, but the fewer words said about this failed attempt, the better. These films were never specifically in the horror film vein, and did not include any blatant jump scares or other sensationalism. But all of these examples showed that the makers knew how to skilfully play with the genre of scary, ghost or horror films in order to stir up unease without going all out. Anyone who looked at the works when they were too young could definitely have experienced one or two traumas…
Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) seeks help from villager Floyd (Murray Abraham), who introduces her to the world of spirits.
The film adaptation of the novel “Things Heard & Seen” by the directing couple Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is now being released (“The Last Gentleman”) yes actually on Netflix and not on Disney+. And anyway, the adaptation of Elizabeth Brundage’s bestseller “All Things Cease to Appear” doesn’t even have anything to do with the mouse company. The fact that our text on the horror drama begins with a brief detour into the history of Disney adult films is primarily due to the fact that it is about Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”)James Norton (“Little Women”) and Natalia Dyer (“Stranger Things”) The production, which has a very good cast, could be compared tonally excellently with these same films. For “Things Heard & Seen”, Springer Berman and Pulcini create a classic horror film setting (an old, remote manor house with creaking doors and lots of winding corners and corridors), adding horror themes to it (common tropes such as flickering lights or a radio suddenly turning on are used relatively early on). conveys that the property is haunted) and place this tried-and-tested combo in the middle of a classic (marriage) drama whose down-to-earth themes are reflected on the horror level. This is what the young horror filmmakers of the currently dominant genre movement of “new intellectual horror” have been doing for several years with their films like “Get Out”, “Hereditary” and Co.
“For “Things Heard & Seen,” Springer Berman and Pulcini create a classic horror film setting, add horror themes to it and place this tried-and-tested combo in the middle of a classic (marriage) drama whose down-to-earth themes are reflected on the horror level.”
Now, comparisons with the latter films in the case of “Things Heard & Seen” are very far-fetched. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who are also responsible for the script, do not penetrate deep enough beneath the surface of their characters. And with that, their project directly reveals their biggest problem, and therefore the most serious problem for the film as a whole: While the completely reserved horror atmosphere in “Things Heard & Seen”, for which even the moderately shocking moments were noticeably turned off in advance, in order to provoke a maximum of a brief flinch, but by no means an extreme shock, although overall it is very pleasing (“Only God Forgives” cameraman Larry Smith does an excellent job!), but might simply be too boring for an audience hungry for classic horror, The drama plot around it also doesn’t have enough emotional punch to compensate for this. Yes, it is very appealing to experience a film with “Thing Heard & Seen” that, on the one hand, is never quite clear (perhaps the literal monster will jump out of the closet at some point?) and yet Due to the stylish direction, there is tension throughout. And the steadily falling apart happiness between Catherine and George is not without interesting observations. But you won’t find that “certain something” here. In many moments, the subliminally simmering interaction between the increasingly mistrustful spouses is enough to stir up interest.
Scenes from a marriage.
Nevertheless, this interest hardly results from the sensitive treatment of the many ways in which a marriage can fail. Especially in the interaction with her young, attractive gardener Eddie (Alex Neustaedter), Amanda Seyfried, who is otherwise convincing in the role of the unhappy wife, lacks her acting skills when she prefers to use exaggeratedly large gestures instead of her otherwise expressive facial expressions. The same goes for George’s interaction with his seductive student Willis. As the married couple neglect each other more and more, they are even more receptive to external stimuli – the classic “scenes of a marriage” have told other stories in a much more complex way. But the supernatural plot can sometimes move into this narrative void when interesting connections are made between George’s gradual brutalization of his former love and Catherine’s fear that her house is haunted. Above all, the strong performance of “Better Call Saul” star Rhea Seehorn as Catherine’s worried friend Justine underpins the ghost theme, which has remained vague for a long time, with concrete formulations about the possible origin and intentions of the supernatural “inhabitants”. It’s just a shame that the author duo doesn’t use this character to use her to explore Catharine’s background, which is repeatedly touched on in “Things Heard & Seen” but never explained or at least leads somewhere (keyword: eating disorder).
“As the spouses neglect each other more and more, they are even more receptive to external stimuli – the classic “scenes of a marriage” have told other stories in a much more complex way. But the supernatural plot can sometimes move into this narrative blank space.”
George, played most of the time with the necessary sensitivity by James Norton, is even worse off without any reference person apart from his wife. There is a reason for the rapid events on the home stretch, which is why his behavior remains a mystery most of the time. And yet you would still have one here and there something More clear wording would be desired in order to understand the motives of everyone involved. The final image can be so cleverly chosen and meaningful.
Conclusion: “Things Heard & Seen” is not scary enough to be a horror film and not intense enough to be convincing as a marital drama. Actually. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who are responsible for the script and direction, often manage to make the film’s definitely existing strengths complement each other and thus conceal the sometimes glaring weaknesses. The result looks extremely elegant, exudes a reserved, eerie atmosphere and, despite its shortcomings, has a surprising amount of appeal.
“Things Heard & Seen” is now available to stream on Netflix.