New out this week is the horror-thriller, Things Heard & Seen – a ghost story from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. The movie – which stars Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, F. Murray Abraham, and Karen Allen – is based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel, All Things Cease to Appear, and tells the story of a young couple who move into a haunted farm house.
Set in 1980, the film follows George and Catherine Claire, who along with their daughter, relocate to a new town when George gets offered a prestigious job. They make a home for themselves and slowly start to get to know their local surroundings and some of the neighbours.
To the outside world, the Claires appear to be the perfect family, but appearances are a little deceptive. Cracks have developed in their relationship and they both are keeping secrets from one another.
One of these secrets is connected to their new home. Prior to the Claires moving in, their farm house provided the backdrop to a tragedy, and this is something which George has kept quiet about.
But as odd occurrences begin to take place, the truth about the house begins to surface. And once Catherine starts digging into its past, she finds herself uncovering more troublesome secrets.
Things Heard & Seen is available to stream on Netflix from today, and I should mention that while this film is a horror-thriller and also a ghost story, it isn’t a particularly scary movie. There is a significant trend in horror at present, especially in haunted house pictures, to fill a film’s running time with a succession of jump scares at ten-minute intervals, but that is not what Things Heard & Seen is about.
There are a few creepy moments in this movie, and a couple of scenes which will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, but Things Heard & Seen largely looks at the horror of domestic life. This is a picture which explores what goes on behind closed doors first, with the spooky stuff coming second.
Things Heard & Seen is also a slow burner. It unspools its tale over two hours, taking its time to build its central mystery through atmosphere, through its setting, and through character development.
All of these things work very well and in terms of atmosphere and setting, this film does a good job of recreating old haunted house horrors of the ’70s and ‘80s. Early into the movie, I was reminded of The Amityville Horror (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), and while ultimately Things Heard & Seen doesn’t quite go down the same routes as these pictures, it does feel as if it exists in the same era.
The way it recreates 1980 is perfectly handled. Rather than chuck nostalgia at the screen, the time period is subtly conveyed through clothing and technology, as well as a score which offers small hints of the decade, without relying on the tried and tested formula of an electro-infused soundtrack.
Don’t get me wrong, I love an ‘80s setting and an electro beat as much as the next person (possibly more so), but this has become a too common in horror films set in this time period. It is good to see a film move away from this trope and establish an era with small touches here and there.
But the atmosphere and setting would only take the movie so far, and the real strength of the picture lies in the leads. Amanda Seyfried and James Norton are great in their roles, and perfectly capture a couple on the brink of their relationship.
Seyfried in particular is a strong presence in the movie. She becomes a focus of the film, and there is a real sadness surrounding her, as it becomes increasingly clear that her relationship has major problems, which are affecting her on a subconscious level and could have worse ramifications for her future.
Things Heard & Seen has a lot going for it, including everything mentioned above, as well as some interesting shots and a great supporting cast. It stumbles slightly towards the end, trying to wrap things up perhaps a little too quickly, but for the most part there is much to like in this movie.
Some will find it slow for their tastes, but this is well-made stuff. It is perfect as a late-night domestic chiller, with a couple of spooky scenes and much to think about as the credits roll.