It’s easy to imagine someone coming up with the title for Netflix’s horror of the week after making a list of everything they wanted to squeeze into the runtime. Weird, old ghost woman? Check. Creepy kid? Yep. Flashing clown nightlight? Of course. Other things heard and seen in Things Heard & Seen include a mysterious ring, a dusty bible, floating shapes, moving rocking chairs, a haunted electric toothbrush and just about anything and everything else that moves, buzzes, opens or lights up – and that’s just in the first 15 minutes.
In fact, the title actually comes from the work of Swedish theologian and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg (Heaven And Its Wonders And Hell From Things Heard And Seen). The plot, meanwhile, draws on 18th century mysticism, 19th century landscape paintings, and Elizabeth Brundage’s modern novel All Things Cease To Appear to mix a haunted house story with a murder mystery about toxic relationships, emotional abuse, hokey seances, secret affairs, covered up crimes and rural tragedies. In case you didn’t realise, this film is a lot.
Amanda Seyfried and James Norton are Catherine and George Claire – an artsy New York couple who move out to the sticks in the mid ’80s with their young daughter. He’s the one with the new job and she’s not the sort to complain, so Catherine quickly ends up with a lot of time on her own to spend unravelling local mysteries. She’s fragile, alone, and hampered with an eating disorder, which makes George seem like even more of a dick when he instantly starts shagging the local stable girl (Natalia Dyer, aka Nancy from Stranger Things), and even more of an obvious culprit to blame for all the psycho-drama theatrics that muddy the rest of the plot.
Also… ghosts! All the buzzing, flashing, moving chairs/books/rings quickly reveal themselves to be connected with the dark history of the cursed dairy farm and Things Heard & Seen tries hard to cram in as many horror cliches as possible while still stirring up a potboiler soap opera in the main thread. George thinks Catherine is crazy, and Catherine starts to think so too, making gaslighting yet another big theme to be tackled (signalled by the film’s most unintentionally hilarious bit of metaphorical signposting – when one of the ghosts actually smells of gas).
With so much going on, nothing ever feels scary. Tension is built too fast, released too soon, giving us a ghost story that never haunts. Pushed to the background of a tangled murder story and a frothy relationship drama about toxic masculinity and mistrust, it’s never really clear what the horror elements are supposed to do anyway – only adding to the overall sense that everything in the script needs a lot more work.
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini – the director couple who started off with noughties indie classic American Splendour before trying out every other genre going – Things Heard & Seen feels like a missed opportunity. Beautifully shot by Larry Smith, the same cinematographer who framed Only God Forgives and Eyes Wide Shut, and boasting a strong performance from Seyfried who wrestles all the big emotions with skill and shade, it’s a real shame to watch the film slowly churn itself into such a butter of bad ideas.
- Director: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
- Starring: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, Natalia Dyer
- Release date: Out now (Netflix)