THINGS HEARD AND SEEN movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

THINGS HEARD AND SEEN movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

Rating: TV-MA
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, Natalia Dyer, Alex Neustaedter, Rhea Seehorn, Karen Allen, F. Murray Abraham, Ana Sophia Heger, Jack Gore, James Urbaniak, Michael O’Keefe, Lewis Payton Jr.
Writers: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, based on the novel ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR by Elizabeth Brundage
Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: April 29, 2021

 THINGS HEARD & SEEN is a film adaptation of Elizabeth Brundage’s novel ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR. Without having read the book, it’s difficult to know if the film’s problem with getting its supernatural elements to meld with its psychological aspects are due to cuts or tone, or if the issue was in the source material.

As THINGS SEEN & HEARD opens, a slide projector clicks in a dark, empty classroom, displaying paintings of oceans and landscapes. The last slide takes us into a live-action wintry road in 1980. We see George Claire (James Norton) get out of his car. Something odd and alarming happens.

Then we flash back to the spring before. We’re in New York City, where George and his wife Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and their little daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) are saying goodbye to their cosmopolitan friends. George has secured a teaching job at a college in a small town upstate. Catherine isn’t thrilled about the move, but feels she owes it to George to be supportive to him.

We’re not sure exactly why Catherine feels so beholden to George, who we realize quite early on is a jerk. George pressures Catherine to agree to buy an old house with quite a history in an isolated rural area. He casually comes on young horse trainer Willis (Natalia Dyer), and would prefer to medicate four-year-old Franny than deal with her nightmares (Catherine puts her foot down on this one).

Catherine is a good mother and proficient art restorer. She struggles with anorexia and bulimia, but doesn’t appear to be seeking help for this. She also feels like George is deciding all aspects of their life together. All of this is realistic – there are plenty of people, especially women, in this situation – but it does posit Catherine as a victim, even before things start happening on multiple fronts.

For starters, there are plenty of signs that the house is haunted, even before we learn more about it. There’s also George’s new university boss, Floyd (F. Murray Abraham), a great believer in the hereafter and in seances. Another professor, Justine (Rhea Seehorn), befriends Catherine, while local young handyman Eddie (Alex Neustaedter) and his little brother Cole (Jack Gore) are eager to help out around the Claire home.

This is all part of the set-up for THINGS SEEN & HEARD, which has so much straight drama mixed in with the more heightened parts that it feels more like a truncated genre TV series than a film.

Directors/script adapters Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini are good at staging jump scares. They’ve chosen a great cast, with supporting players who include Karen Allen, Michael O’Keefe, and James Urbaniak. They have a facility with dialogue, and a sense of beauty in the scenery.

What the filmmakers haven’t done is figure out a way to make it feel like the natural and spectral sides of the tale are feeding each other. This is a case where, the more we learn, the less connected the two seem to be. There’s an attempt to pull it all together at the end, in the manner of some better-known haunted house movies, but it’s a bit of a reach because of what’s already been established.

THINGS HEARD & SEEN is watchable in a TV-movie fashion, and it’s no argument against combining genres. Still, the film might have been more compelling if it had committed more fully to one or the other.

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