After just pulling off a truly stellar Oscar-nominated performance as Marion Davies in David Fincher’s Mank, Amanda Seyfried returns with a very emotionally wrenching performance as an agonizing wife confined in a decaying marriage. The latest Netflix original film from the filmmaking duo of Robert Pulcini and Sheri Springer Berman (American Splendor, Cinema Verite) attempts at being a high-minded horror movie that can’t quite capture being effective, ominous, or original as it feels like a hodgepodge and pastiche of many other horror movies.
Adapted from the popular 2016 ghost novel All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman’s Things Heard & Seen is another addition of urban elites who endure a journey of torment in their isolated, rural communities. The film focuses on a married couple, George (James Norton) and Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried), who just moved to an upstate New York community after George is offered a position as a art professor in the Hudson Valley region during the early 80s. Catherine is also an art graduate who loves to paint and create art, yet she suffers with anorexia, who gave up a lot of her own pursuits in the city for George’s professor position.
Fresh off earning his doctorate degree, George makes quite the impression on Floyd Deebeers (F. Murray Abraham), the head of the art department at the university, a high-minded academic and author who holds expertise in spirituality and philosophy in which he also conducts seances with other peers to encounter the dead. George and Catherine also have a young daughter, Franny (Ana Heger), in which Catherine and Fanny begin to notice spirits in the world as George easily brushes it off as paranoia. A piano begins to play by itself, lights flicker, and we see an image of a dead woman. Two strange brothers appear out of nowhere, Eddy (Alex Neustaedter) and Cole (Jac Gore), offer their handy services to the house, in which George discovers they used to live there in which he puts pressure on them to not reveal the secrets of the house to Franny in fear it will create more hostility and anxiety in the household.
The first half of the film actually has some solid build-up, thanks mainly to the atmosphere and the use of an effective locale that holds some chilling atmosphere thanks to cinematographer Larry Smith. He uses a lot of wide shots in which the characters feel miniscule and vulnerable from their surroundings. The shots also reflect the art-work that is on display in the films as well as the literature of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th-century spiritualist writer who has a following in the Hudson River academia community.
With all the strong build-up, the film certainly doesn’t pay off to anything brooding or effective. Even the haunted house elements never reach a creepiness and feel very dull. Perhaps the reason for this is the filmmaking duo of Sheri Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini aren’t horror directors. They succeed the best here with the character stuff, which is no surprise considering they helmed the 2003 masterpiece American Splendor–which was an innovative character study on the late cult comic book artist Harvey Pekar.
The film ends up derailing into familiar ghost story terrain and other horror movie tropes that never pays off with a disappointing finale that holds very little resolution that draws very little impact. While the film attempts at miming The Shining or The Amityville Horror, what’s missing is how ineffective it all is, along with an overwhelming neglect for dramatic impact or suspense. There are very few chills, rarely anything unnerving or anxiety-inducing about it, just demonstrations that Berman and Pulcini are way out of place in crafting what could have been a more brooding and impactful horror thriller.