Written by: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, Natalia Dyer, Alex Neustaedter
Misogyny and the mistreatment of women never quite disappears even when we get more progressive and humane with each passing generation. It still holds such a structural place internally and as seen in Things Heard and Seen, in a spiritual and physical one as well. While having some undeniably strong elements, this feature struggles to maintain a level of quality throughout even with it netting positively for me.
Moving from New York City to a large farmhouse in upstate New York for a new position, Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and George (James Norton) hope to start a fresh chapter in their marriage. As they get situated, Catherine feels unsettled being in the house alone as she feels some spirit continues to linger while George attempts to establish himself as a professor.
The opportunity to own real estate and a stable career is what drives this young family out of the urban landscape to a place filled with history and a home with plenty of darkness shrouding over it. This kind of setup has become customary where you have this house with its issues, and of course, it becomes about certain spirits. While it could have gone in a particular direction as many haunted house stories, Things Heard and Seen parallels the past with the present and the horrible way men treat women even if they are bound by marriage.
From the onset, you can tell George cannot be trusted. He has one of those faces where you just know the man will be willing to sell his soul to get ahead and what gets discovered in the feature does not necessarily refute the claim. A semblance of mistrust and harm felt existent as this couple arrived at this house, but all of it gets further teased out to display where the real issues lie in their relationship and how deep a level of hatred can get. While this film gets labeled as a horror film with the anticipation of the spirits providing most of it, in all reality, it truly comes from how terrifying this relationship gets as the film progresses through its plot. Little cracks begin to form and then comes the ravine separating where this couple stands on an emotional and physical level.
Parts of this feature seeks to aggravate as it shows some pretty horrible gaslighting at its worst, but it exists to simply continue to push further this idea of the damage the men of this particular household do to the women. In more than just the physical, it gets rough for Catherine as she begins to suspect things about her husband, and the more she moves away from the isolation of staying home with her child, it becomes all the more apparent. All we can do as the audience is wait for her to get the full picture before it becomes too late.
With their setting being a smaller town, a secret lingers within the townsfolk almost as if they’ve seen the same story play out before. From the defeated looks and distrusting sneers, we know they have more knowledge than they’re letting on. This only further adds to the overall distrust beginning to build throughout the feature and not knowing the intentions of everyone in this town. It signifies the push and pull of whether George further falls into depravity or Catherine figures it all out.
With all of the build-up seen in this feature, when it gets to the finale, it never really materialized into something very intriguing. Things happen in an abrupt manner and we just have to sit with it as the rest of the plot moves forward. Certain actions never get referenced back to, even when they carry significant importance to the narrative overall. It leads to some odd decisions as we get through the climax and the finale where it feels trite and not matching the strong build-up at a thematic level.
Things Heard and Seen works through some very intriguing ideas with how violence against women repeats itself and when operating in this particular stratosphere it works incredibly well. It would have made for a much better film had it stuck the landing in a more cogent and impactful manner but the ideas work well enough. Surely, it could have used Amanda Seyfried in a more challenging manner but for what it tries to do, plenty remains to appreciate.