“Things Heard & Seen” is partly a gothic horror film and partly a portrait of a falling marriage. It’s more effective than the latter than the former, but in the end, these two seemingly distinct types of movies come together in a surprisingly smart and efficient way.
It is also the rare thriller of the husband and wife duo of Shari Springer Berman and Robert pulcini, whose eclectic filmography as a writing / directing team includes the brilliant “American splendor“And the comedy”Nanny Diaries. So while the setting may seem familiar – a creaky old house with a dark past where things happen at night – Berman and Pulcini operate in a different, low-key vibe. Their adaptation of Elizabeth brundage novel All things stop appearing(which is a much better title, by the way) has a fantastic cast of actors who are always fascinating to watch even when the material itself is less so.
We start with a little trick, one of the many that we will discover throughout the story. A man walks to a dark wooden farmhouse in the winter of 1980. As he walks into the garage, he notices something dripping onto his windshield from the ceiling above – a substance he instantly recognizes as blood . He rushes inside to find his little girl playing alone in the living room. Something horrible has happened, but to whom and why?
Flash back to the previous spring, when the man, George Claire (James norton), and his wife, Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), are celebrating their daughter Franny’s birthday in their Manhattan apartment. They are a seemingly happy couple with an exciting future ahead of them: he just took a job as an assistant art professor at a small liberal arts university in the upstate. She is an experienced art restorer who convinced herself of the possibility of adventure in a new city. But another mom commenting on how skinny Catherine has gotten, followed by Catherine eating a single bite of cake and then quickly throwing it in the bathroom, is an early sign of domestic turmoil.
The farm George found for the family (with the help of Karen Allen as a real estate agent a nice addition) is the material of horror movies: built in the 18ecentury in the pastoral splendor of the Hudson River Valley, offering equal parts beauty and eerie, it is isolated even in a small town. (Director of Photography Larry smith creates a cold vibe in its depiction of a place where the sky is perpetually gray.) Ladies of historical society whisper about it. Brothers who live nearby (Alex Neustadter and Jack gore) offer help with repairs, but may have other intentions.
Settling in this place is more difficult than Catherine had imagined on several fronts. It’s bad enough that she finds disturbing items left behind by the previous owners. It seems that they also left parts of themselves there. Lamps twinkle, electricity hums, and ethereal wisps of light pass along windows and walls. Seyfried takes everything in silence, his large expressive eyes indicating his inner wonder. But in an unexpected twist, she’s not afraid of the spirits that float around her – she is fascinated by them and wants to help them achieve peace. A scene Seyfried shares with the ever-formidable F. Murray Abraham as George’s department head is the warmest in the film, as the two reveal their mutual concern for these restless souls.
But the supernatural side of “Things Heard & Seen” is never as captivating as its marital turmoil. George might be charismatic, but he’s also a rabid narcissist and pathological liar, and Norton makes it very pleasant to watch his silky exterior deteriorate. At first it seems like he’s just a handsome teacher, basking in the attention of his adoring students, but there is so much more to him – and so much less. Watching Catherine blossom throughout the film and establish her identity and individual interests – even as George wants to keep her in her place as a tiny woman – is a source of greater tension and threat than any mischievous ghost. . Seyfried gradually transforms his character’s fragility into rage, and his propensity to store white wine on an empty stomach, whether to celebrate or escape, is a recipe for volatility.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast entering the picture as the Claires bond wears off does wonders to liven things up in this low-key horror setting. Rhea seehorn almost runs away with the whole movie as George’s co-worker sees the couple’s marriage more clearly than they do, perhaps. She’s an “adjunct weaving teacher,” which is fun in itself, and her inspired delivery provides a much needed boost of energy. James urbaniak, as her pot-grower husband, can say things like, “We should go out and watch the alpacas before they sleep.” They’re completely free and intriguing at a time when the Claires connection is crumbling. There is a whole, juicy “Who is afraid of Virginia woolf? »Scenario that asks only to be explored with these two couples. But alas, the spirits are calling.
Berman and Pulcini end up weaving these two threads together, if you’ll forgive the pun, and “Things Heard & Seen” gets rightfully creepy and maybe a little too crazy. But it can also make you think twice when you hear about a big, old house with good bones that you can get for a robbery.
Now available on Netflix.