This review contains spoilers for the Netflix film“Things Heard & Seen.”
Netflix’s recent horror release, “Things Heard & Seen,” hit the streaming service on Friday, April 30, bringing a new twist to the classic haunted house film that audiences have loved since “Poltergeist (1982).”
The film, based on the novel “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage, stars “Mean Girls” and “Mank” actress Amanda Seyfried as Catherine Claire, an artist, mother and troubled wife. Catherine, her husband George Claire (James Norton) and their daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) move to Hudson Valley in upstate New York, following George’s new position at a private college in the area. Catherine Claire deals with an unfaithful husband who not only consistently manipulates and invalidates her and her daughter but is also entitled and unempathetic, blaming their struggles as a family on her eating disorder. This cracked family dynamic will only worsen as the spirits of their new house bring the family to a breaking point.
Like many other horror movies, the Claires leave their city life and move into an old and worn-out looking home that, as one could guess, is flooded with malevolent spirits. Upon watching the first bit of the movie, many avid horror critics would dismiss the film since it didn’t seem to bring anything particularly new to the genre. However, as the characters begin to develop, their descent into madness, anger and fear doesn’t revolve around their house but rather their relationships.
The spirits of the house are revealed to belong to its original owners — a man who likely killed his wife and a family that had yet another man who murdered his wife. The protagonists’ already torn relationship is susceptible to the influence of these spirits, as Catherine finds herself time and time again under the protection of the women of the house who were murdered by their malicious husbands.
As a horror fan myself, I am often overly critical to new horror films since the same plotlines are repeated more often than not. There is also typically an emphasis on jumpscares rather than more intense and psychological horror that keeps you up at night. However, one trope that I and many others always seem to love is the American psycho. The character type, based off the 2000 Christian Bale film of the same name, is a man who is overwhelmed and obsessed with the image he portrays to the outside world — so obsessed that he is willing to kill for it. Thus, the true horror of “Things Heard & Seen” comes from its own American psycho, George Claire.
George starts off as a seemingly normal husband. Although clearly manipulative and emotionally unintelligent, he is successful, and provides for his wife and daughter. This image is quickly erased when he cheats on Catherine with the first woman who he finds attractive. This deception continues to escalate as the reality of the life he has falsified begins to peek out into the light. It is revealed that he gained his new professor position at the university through forgery of his recommendation letters. Furthermore, the art that he places throughout his office, which he claims to have made, actually belonged to his dead cousin. He is so engrossed in the image he wants to portray — a perfect family man and scholar — that he is willing to silence anyone who gets in the way, even his own wife.
With this focus of psychopathy and abuse, the film itself is okay. It is well made, the actors are great, and the sets, art, and music choices work well with the overall image of the film. However, there are also many aspects that make the film rather average as a whole — particularly its ending. Without divulging too deep into spoilers, the final 15 or so minutes of the film proved entirely pointless and rather tarnished the horror of George Claire. Rather than leaving the audience in suspense as to what was his fate after the murder of his wife, the creators take viewers into some form of lucid reality in which George sails out to sea and becomes the next painting of Emanuel Swedenborg, an artist that was mentioned several times throughout the film. This ending serves to tie the ideas of spirits and the afterlife — hell as it is for George — that were introduced through the work of Swedenborg. However, the execution was rather lazy since this encapsulation was done in a matter of 10 minutes or so.
Overall, “Things Heard & Seen” is decent and a definite improvement on many of the popular horror films released today. For avid horror fans, it is an easy watch with some interesting twists; for those not looking for too scary of a film, it is a decent watch. However, for those fans who are looking for more of a scare, Netflix has several more recently released horror films, such as “His House (2020)” and “1922 (2017),” that are a great watch as well.
Carisa DeSantos is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.