Things Heard & Seen (2021)

Things Heard & Seen
Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Writer: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Based on: Elizabeth Brundage’s novel All Things Cease to Appear
Cast: James Norton, Amanda Seyfried, Rhea Seehorn, Natalia Dyer, Ana Sophia Heger, Karen Allen, F. Murray Abraham, Alex Neustaedter, Jack Gore, James Urbaniak
Seen on: 6.7.2021

Content Note: domestic violence, abuse, eating disorder

Plot:
George (James Norton), Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and their daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) move from New York City to a small town where George was offered a teaching position at a small art college. Catherine, an artist herself, is reluctant about the move, but feels that she owes it to George to try. And Franny will probably enjoy living in a house with a garden. But after their arrival, Catherine gets the feeling that something is going on at their house, and with George.

Things Heard & Seen is a haunted house story in a double sense: it’s literally haunted by spirits, and figuratively haunted by the violence that occurs in it. This works surprisingly well together, though I didn’t like the ending all that much.

The film poster showing Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) superimposed over a house in the distance. Much smaller next to her face is George (James Norton) carrying their daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger).

As a literal haunted house story, the film is atmospheric and unusual in that Catherine doesn’t actually seem all that scared of the ghosts, more interested in understanding and helping them. And the longer the film goes on, the more we realize that the real fear doesn’t come from the ghosts but from George.

It is here that the film is at its best, slowly peeling away his personable exterior (the only one who is able to look behind this facade is his colleague and Catherine’s friend Justine (Rhea Seehorn, wonderful)) to show his controling, manipulative abuse of Catherine. We rarely get to see domestic violence portrayed this way: not daily beatings (though George isn’t above physical violence), but the more insidious ways of isolating Catherine, keeping her small, using her mental health against her, and overall making her miserable. Both James Norton and Amanda Seyfried are great in their roles and together.

Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and George (James Norton) looking at the house with a real estate agent.

The ghost part adds an element of “there’s nothing new about domestic violence” which I liked, but I pretty much hated that at the end, the film doesn’t break the circle of violence. We have to contend ourselves with “he will be punished, if not in this life, then in the next”. I would have preferred a better ending.

But the film gets a lot right until then. I was really pleasantly surprised by it (if you can call a film about the horrors of domestic violence “pleasant” in any way).

Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) covering her mouth in horror.

Summarizing: very good.

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