A family moves into a new home with a gruesome past, which still lingers in many ways. That simple setup could apply to any number of horror movies set within a haunted house. Things Heard & Seen opts for a slightly altered approach that adds true crime and drama to the fold, with mixed results.
Netflix’s latest opens to George Clare (James Norton) pulling into the garage after a day’s work, only to get greeted with spilled blood and his young daughter left alone in the living room. Rewind to the year before, where we meet George in proper and wife Catherine (Amanda Seyfried). Catherine is a talented artist dutifully leaving behind the city life she knows to relocate to a more rural town for her husband’s new career opportunity as a professor. It doesn’t take long for their new home to present the tell-tale signs of a haunting, though only to Catherine and her young daughter. It coincides with the arrival of the former tenants’ sons in search of work, and the cracks in the Clares’ marriage begin to show.
Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini adapted the novel All Things Cease to Appear by author Elizabeth Brundage, which drew inspiration from a true-crime ax murder. That means the early signs of hauntings quickly drop the scary façade; the ghosts in this house take on a more supporting role. At the forefront is the relationship between George and Catherine and the growing chasm between them. George wastes no time pursuing college student Willis (Natalia Dyer) and social climbing at work while leaving Catherine isolated and unaware of the house’s history. The more Catherine grows into her own, the more George reveals himself not to be the upstanding guy he presents.
The opening sequence gives a solid indication for where the story will wind up, making everything in between a bit of a slog in getting there. Berman and Pulcini attempt to toss in every red herring possible through the supporting players and paranormal mythology. Very little of it contributes to the narrative in a meaningful way. From Catherine’s first introduction, she’s depicted to struggle with an eating disorder. She rushes to the bathroom to throw up a bite of her daughter’s birthday cake, and George frequently comments on her lack of eating. Instead of exploring this further, particularly in correlation to potential insecurities in Catherine’s relationships, it’s used as a convenient plot tool later. Similarly, Eddy Lucks (Alex Neustaedter) showing up to work for Catherine despite his history with the house presents an interesting character arc that ultimately gets left by the wayside.
None of the superfluous threads can distract from the predictability, though a late-game idea gets introduced that muddies the finale tremendously. Things Heard & Seen does offer a couple of creepy moments and a moody atmosphere, and the concept of framing a haunted house around a killer is an intriguing one. Seyfried effortlessly imbues Catherine with rooting interest and likability. Still, it gets frustrating after a while waiting for Catherine to notice red flags and to confront an unsubtle husband for his egregious behavior. A third act layer to the supernatural that feels underdeveloped and unearned. There’s a solid idea at the core, but it struggles to juggle the underbaked plot threads and characters surrounding it. It aspires to be a mystery but can’t wring any tension to fuel it. Netflix’s latest horror-thriller brings minor chills but few thrills.
Things Heard & Seen will be released on Netflix on April 29, 2021.