Movie Review: ‘Things Heard & Seen’ is More of a Spiritual Movie Than a Horror-Thriller

Things Heard and Seen is a horror-thriller film written and directed by Shari Springer Berman (American Splendor). The movie is based on the 2016 novel, “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage. The movie opens with a tumultuous scene; a man pulls up in his garage and notices something dripping on his windshield. He gets out of his car, touches the substance and sees blood dripping from the ceiling. The frightened man rushes to the room where he finds his young daughter, and they both quickly depart the house. Something obviously happened but why he did that or what exactly happened wasn’t explained.

The rest of the story  follows a family, George (James Norton), Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), and their daughter, Franny (Ana Sophia Heger). Catherine leaves her job as an art restorer in New York City when her husband lands a teaching job at a private College in Saginaw, Michigan. The move is also meant to be a fresh start for the couple but after purchasing an old house which seems to be haunted, things take a bitter turn. The house that ought to be their comfort begins to tear them apart. After a series of events, Catherine learns that there’s indeed a ghost in the house and her husband is not who she thinks he is. 

James Norton and Amanda Seyfried in Things Heard and Seen
Image via Netflix

Things Heard and Seen does not deliver on its genre as a horror thriller, it’s more of a thriller drama that depicts  severe marital problems between a young couple. Since the house is a monument of severe marital problems with the previous owner, the premise to make it fit in as a thriller drama is already present. Other than the ghosts that refuse to haunt, there is nothing “horror” about the movie. It is pretty much a movie that depicts human nature and the consequence of being good or bad on earth. It also  places importance on how the deeds of the past can always come back to haunt the present and how humans tend to lash out when they are boxed to a corner. The only haunting atmosphere in the movie is how George mirrors the gruesome characters of the previous men that lived in their new home. Even this conclusion is based on the vague plot the movie presented, as the backstory to the ghosts in the house wasn’t explained nor shown. 

The sinister quote by Swedenborg, which is shown at the beginning states that “things that are in heaven are more real than things that are in the world” suggests that the movie will indeed be one of those haunted house stories. However, an hour into the movie and one could see that the movie only evokes the spiritual aspect of a man’s life. A séance even takes place in Catherine’s house, in some  sort of a spiritual session with the paranormal entity. Swedenborg’s quote in this case suggested that man’s doing on earth will clearly have an effect in the afterlife, in other words, the afterlife is real. The director uses the agnostic personality of George to buttress this notion, by clearly making it known to the character himself, or maybe to just the viewers alone,  that he is damned on earth and the life after. The movie tried to be different and avoid the usual horror clichés that all ghosts in a haunted house can only be evil. Even with their attempt to carefully present and plan a unique  plot than the usual horror movies, there were a lot of loose ends that the director failed to bridge. 

Image via Netflix

The frantic opening scene of a father who hurriedly takes his child away from what one can only presume to be horrible is never explained apart from the fact that it is related to the haunted house. The kids of the previous owners of the house are also introduced, Eddie and Jack Vayle who do little or nothing to drive the plot rather than the elder brother’s relationship with Catherine which amounts to nothing. Even with the husband’s affair, the director couldn’t do anything with it. The fact that the director aims to present all the husbands that lived in the old house as  narcissistic over-controlling jerks drifts him away from the story he wishes to lay down. If the movie is stripped of its ghostly element, then maybe the plot might be a little intriguing and the movie would have had a more befitting ending. As the movie ends, it further fails to nail down or give further clarification into the reason behind some characters’ behaviour. In George’s case, it isn’t clear whether the evil forces of the house are the source of his immorality or that it is just him being his reprehensible self. The movie ends with the rationale that good will always triumph over evil although there is no ominous music to hear nor haunting things to see in Things Heard and Seen. 

Rating: 5/10

Side Musings

  • The sight of the upside down cross in the movie only reminded me of a more haunting story of the evil Valak in The Conjuring.

Things Heard & Seen is currently streaming on Netflix.

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