By Lynn Venhaus
A poorly constructed storyline squanders a good cast in “Things Heard & Seen,” an unsatisfying adaptation of the bestselling novel “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage.
When George Claire (James Norton) accepts a teaching offer at a small liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley, he relocates his wife, Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), a Manhattan artist, and their 4-year-old daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) to an old farmhouse. The home has a dark history and sinister things start happening.
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini seem to be odd choices to write and direct this multi-generational story that abandons that idea. They were Oscar-nominated for the screenplay of “American Splendor,” which they directed.
However, they can’t make up their mind whether to concentrate on being a paranormal activity horror film or a thriller about a sociopathic husband. Pick a lane, people – and neither is convincing.
James Norton, a British actor last seen as Meg’s husband in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 “Little Women,” is an implausible cad with a wandering eye – picking up chicks at the local library with his daughter in tow. He is built up as a golden boy, a hotshot art historian whose students worship him, but then turns deceitful on a dime.
Of course, he doesn’t believe his wife about her supernatural suspicions. A feeble Amanda Seyfried, whose character is bulimic, seems lost in this stale role. A controlling George thinks she’s losing it – no surprise there. And she is thoroughly in the dark about his duplicitous double life. When she starts suspecting a crack in his façade, the ghosts turn into sympathetic pals.
The old house is another character, with signs of ghosts that are often used in unimaginative genre films. The set-up early on is where someone should scream “Get out of the house now!” Naturally, the rambling homestead is a remote place, and set in 1980, there is no modern technology that could be used for rescues.
The supporting cast includes Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as the erudite art department chair, Rhea Seehorn as a sassy weaver on the faculty, Karen Allen as the town realtor, Michael O’Keefe as her husband, also the town sheriff, and Natalia Dyer as a cynical coed. You’d expect that they would have more to do, but nope – rather wasted instead of serving the plot.
With a few genuine moments of suspense, you see where it had potential, but several teases of substantive developments go nowhere, leading to one of the more ridiculous endings in recent memory.
As the third act rushes to conclusion – and people wind up injured or dead after confronting the horrible husband about his misdeeds – one figures out that this has been a huge waste of time.
The only way to enjoy any part of this movie is to revel in the bad dialogue. If you go in realizing that this film is trash, you might have fun with it.
Otherwise, the lack of cohesiveness will be frustrating.
“Things Heard & Seen” is a 2021 horror-thriller directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, starring Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Rhea Seehorn, Natalia Dyer, Karen Allen, Michael O’Keefe. It runs 2 hours, 1 minute and is rated TV-MA. It is now streaming on Netflix. Lynn’s Grade: D-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.