Directed By Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Starring – Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, Natalia Dyer
The Plot – A Manhattan artist (Seyfried) relocates her young family to a historic hamlet in the Hudson Valley. As she settles into a new life, she begins to suspect that her marriage has a sinister darkness, one that rivals her new home’s history. Based on the acclaimed novel by Elizabeth Brundange.
Rated TV-MA for suicide, adult language, and smoking
– Breathtaking geography. Adding to the occasionally entrancing cinematography from Larry Smith is a primary shooting location within the Hudson Valley of New York that not only captures the isolation aspect of this couple in peril, but also presents us the audience no shortage of intoxicating imagery that seduces and immerses us within the frame of mind of the movie’s protagonists. Being that this is a subtle period piece from a culturally distinctive decade, the film’s setting keeps the movie’s visuals from ever getting lost in an abundance of unnecessary production porn, complete with timely objects and styles that wouldn’t otherwise play cohesively towards the movie’s creativity. Instead, what we get is a stripped down, barebones approach to the setting that leaves all of the focus where it should be; on the story and its characters, all the while eliciting some of the more ambitious elements of production that unfortunately the rest of the film wasn’t equally up to par towards.
– Stoic performances. Despite the fledging characterization, which often undercuts the magic of some talented supporting players, the work of Seyfried and Norton transcend such a handicap with attention to dedication that colorfully illustrates two distinctly diverse characters who somehow found their way in love. For Seyfried’s Catherine, that begins with a frailty and dangerousness to trust that often gets the best of her character, granting Amanda an on-the-edge turn that vividly paints the despair of a woman whose life is being redefined before her very eyes. Seyfried is solid in this role, but for my money Norton is utterly unstoppable in what is arguably his first lead role to date. As George, Norton strips away the layers of sanity and competence for a three act evolution that enhances the ambiguity of his character the longer we spend with him. His conniving selfishness is only surpassed by the carelessness that he embodies while taking advantage of everything and everyone, conjuring up a breakthrough turn that solidifies all eyes will be on him in his next role.
– Stirring score. If there was one aspect of production that materialized any emotional resonance within my demeanor while watching this film, it was in the layered complexity of musical compositions that Peter Raeburn disperses despite the limitations of one lone instrument. This is obviously the piano, which Peter uses to audibly narrate the hope and underlining distrust in a marriage crumbling before our very eyes. To attain this simultaneously in its abstract deliveries is remarkable enough, but what makes it all the more engaging is the fact that it doesn’t resort to meandering levels of volume control, which overtake and undersell the depth of its talented ensemble. Raeburn has attained a masterfully eclectic presence in films like “Under the Skin”, “Birth”, and my personal favorite, “Blue Valentine”, but his work in “Things Heard & Seen” feels like his most focused, capturing the complexion of this ever-changing narrative with a presence that articulates the true tragedy of its characters.
– Clumsy characterization. Mentioning anything else first would be a major mistake, as the stacking of unnecessary trades and unexplored avenues of direction feels evident as early as a half hour into the narrative. It starts with the introduction of characters who are nothing more than momentary plot conveniences to move the story along where the script needs it to go. This is cemented with a third act that abandons a majority of them, then asks us to care for the few who are left but previously never received a spare scene to flesh out their backstories and personalities. In my opinion, these characters, especially the inhabitants of the land surrounding this newly neighbored family, could easily be omitted from this film, and the direction would lose absolutely nothing in a film that honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense to begin with. Leaving them intact resorts us to a creative tug-of-war that forcefully plays against the isolation for this family that much of this story requires, and gives us a series of people who, like this film as a whole, are all the more forgettable with each passing minute.
– Multiple personalities. Being that this movie is written and directed by two different people speaks volumes to the uneven focus of the movie’s creativity, which tonally tries to attempt being too many things to too many genre’s. “Things Heard & Seen” is a psychological thriller, a marital drama, a haunted house horror, and a muddling mystery to its two hours of screen time. None of these directions mixing even passably well together, and all of which solidifying a disjointed narrative that I can only compare to some of the worst Lifetime Television movies that I have unfortunately been saddled with watching. A more capably gifted director could enhance the uniqueness of each of these elements stirred to perfection in a story that could’ve felt like a fresh subversion to its respective genre’s. Unfortunately, between the abundance of tired tropes and arduous transitions, which often has this feeling like many films that were forced together, the script never attains a level of symmetry needed to mix each of its ingredients seamlessly, giving us a watered down taste that continuously disappoints.
– Diminishing interest. Saying that this movie was boring would be putting it lightly, so instead I will say that there’s a total lack of competence in the meat of its narrative that kept me from ever fully immersing myself in the evidential ambition that it had in its material. For a story revolving around suspense and uncertainty, there’s a total lack of it in everything conveyed within the uninspired and often unjustifiable movements of its characters. In fact, I was able to accurately sniff out early on where the narrative was headed, and considering the bulk of its material pertains to the lore of the afterlife and the tortured souls caught in between, the execution feeling this rudimentary and conventional was a disappointment to say the least. It gives us a story with no mystery and no suspense, then asks us to feel invested in a movie that promises such, abandoning hope with the lack of follow through that keeps the key ingredients feeling dramatically undercooked.
– Routine editing. Much of this section can be blamed in the lack of mystery in a story that gives away most of the answers within the first 30-40 minutes. For my money, I wish the editor would’ve experimented more with a distortion in presentation that could’ve played more cohesively in us the audience learning things alongside Catherine, instead of us continuously feeling five steps ahead of her at all times. This would’ve not only progressed the narrative in a way that maintained the grip on the mystery until the third act, but also would’ve manufactured the much needed suspense, to which the film was virtually void of, as previously mentioned. Finally, the erratic editing occasionally oversteps its bounds in cutting a scene far too early before clarity is reached. This leaves to a series of logic holes in our interpretation that forces us to hang on the shoddy dialogue that heavy-handedly bridges the gap of what was previously unforeseen, doing a monumental disservice to what very well could’ve been the most memorable scenes in distinguishing the movie’s identity.
– Special effects. Didn’t expect this in a marital drama, did you? Well, Netflix is happy to oblige with a series of lackluster sight gags that breeds its very TV encompassing of deposited budget. These elements of lukewarm artificiality lack any semblance of depth or weight to make them come across as believable in the context of the scene and characters, and even underwhelm on a presentational aspect. Such an example exists with a shine effect in paranormal presence, which proves that this production saw “Hereditary” a bit too many times, and decided to borrow the same effect for its feature. The only problem here is it’s layered and designed in a way that barely registers on high definition screens, and considering it represents a particular entity in the afterlife, can’t attain the kind of uniqueness in design that colorfully reminds us each time we are graced with its presence. It’s another miscalculated opportunity to dazzle, but instead duds, giving us obvious and detracting reminder of its presence each time it pops up.
– Painful resolution. Not since 2019’s “The Turning” have I felt an anticlimatic ending trigger a frustration from within me that conveyed the lack of satisfaction for where these characters end up. Part of the problem is in the set-up of its final scenes, which creatively writes the script into a corner of conformity that it can’t escape with a ‘Less is more’ antithesis. Beyond that, it’s the way several respective subplots go unanswered until the movie just kind of gives up on them receiving any semblance of satisfaction to either justify their inclusion to the narrative, or patch some glaring plot holes that I couldn’t subdue no matter how hard I tried to turn my mind off. It’s the final emphasis in an experience that was best left forgotten, and makes me wish this was a film that I neither heard of, nor seen.
My Grade: 3/10 or F