Things Heard and Seen Synopsis: After moving to a small town with her husband (James Norton), Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), a young artist begins to suspect that their newfound home may harbor a sinister secret.
Netflix has built a robust film library during its meteoric rise, but I’ve always wished the streamer did more to embrace horror’s unnerving allures. Horror plays best in home entertainment’s tight-knit setting, allowing audiences to manifest their own discomfort as the dreary atmosphere builds onscreen. Aside from a few accomplished offerings (His House, Gerald’s Game, and Apostle), the streamer’s slew of blandly flavored enterprises have come and went without much fanfare.
Looking to change that is the handsomely crafted gothic scarer Things Heard and Seen. Despite boasting a sturdy cast and premise, this stagnate effort does little to get under audience’s skin.
Unlike other lukewarm vehicles, Things Heard and Seen at least holds a substantive pulse. Writer/directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman implement mannered filmmaking techniques to dig into Catherine and George’s lingering marital dysfunction. The buttoned-up choices are a fitting complement to the film’s dive into distrust and unearthed frustrations, often enhancing the spooky haunted house aesthetics through their sense of purpose. Pulcini and Berman perhaps leave their largest impact through their atmospheric tendencies. Their somber setting and its haunting echoes serve as an apt magnifying chamber for the characters’ internal struggles.
A capable veteran cast also helps keep viewers engaged. Amanda Seyfried has a knack for displaying nuanced emotion through subtle techniques, skillfully personifying Catherine’s dual struggles with impactful conviction. James Norton imbues a smug charisma fitting of George’s performative actions, while F. Murray Abraham and Natalia Dyer steadily elevate their thinly structured roles.
Pulcini and Berman’s film presents poise and promise with every frame, but the duo can’t fully implement the premise’s allures. After a first half bursting with pertinent ideals, the screenplay’s second half whisks audiences into a formulaic tale of psychosis. The lack of follow-through prevents anything from being built on top of the promising foundation, settling for well-trudged horror mechanics amidst a narrative that could have made a stronger statement (I don’t think the film does enough to intertwine its horror and character ambitions). For most horror audiences, Things Heard and Seen will be a detour into been-there-done-that conventions.
I could stomach the potent sense of deja vu if the film did more to revitalize its conventions. While capable across the board, Pulcini and Berman lack the distinctive verve needed to compel viewers. Well-choreographed, yet lifeless visual frames rarely indulge in the premise’s haunted happenings, leaving a narrative that often feels too timid to truly scare. Things Heard and Seen honestly works better as a domestic drama, as once the film tries to reveal its horrific hand, it only reveals a played-out platter of toothless scares.
Things Heard and Seen rarely takes a major stumble, but the slow-build tale dully develops towards a fairly inert conclusion.
Things Heard and Seen releases on Netflix on April 30th.
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