Netflix’s Things Heard & Seen is set in the 80s, and it has the retro vibe of beloved fright flicks about city couples moving out to the country to get away from it all… only to get a lot more activity (of the paranormal kind) than they bargained for. Think Burnt Offerings, The Amityville Horror, and Insidious.
Fragile wife and mother Catherine Clare (Amanda Seyfried, Mank) reluctantly leaves bustling 1980s Manhattan to move into a remote old dairy farmhouse in a tiny hamlet due to a career change. After her confident, controlling husband George (James Norton, The Nevers) lands his dream job teaching art history at a small but respected Hudson Valley college, Catherine tries to make the best of it.
Even as she does her utmost to transform the derelict, long-empty farm into a place where her young daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger, Life in Pieces) will be happy, Catherine struggles with the burden. Isolated and feeling alone in her reluctance to embrace the place, her demons surface. Catherine starts to sense a sinister darkness lurking both in the ramshackle property’s walls and in her marriage. As it turns out, handsome George is no prize. He’s dismissive of Catherine’s anxiety and even adds fuel to the fire by being unfaithful to her and hiding the truth about even bigger issues. Catherine seeks solace in the locals—an attractive young handyman and an outspoken colleague of George’s (played by Alex Neustaedter and Rhea Seehorn, respectively)—but it’s the spirits in her house that offer the deeper friendship. Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) round out the cast.
Things Heard & Seen is based on an acclaimed literary thriller, All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage, and is written and directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (American Splendor). The pedigree shows, as this is one of the more thoughtful, intriguing horror films I’ve seen lately. As I mentioned, it’s set in the past, and it does have a retro vibe, but it’s not overly showy in that regard. The costuming and set decoration help to put you back into a time when you couldn’t call for help on your smartphone, and it wasn’t so easy to research a person’s—and house’s—past. The music is appropriately eerie but subdued. The cinematography is exceptional, as it should be: Things Heard & Seen is lensed by the magnificent Larry Smith (Only God Forgives).
While the base story is not original, I prefer to think of it as tried and true. This formula just works. What sets Things Heard & Seen above the competition is the push-and-pull between its two leads. Seyfried is simply brilliant; even though she plays a somewhat weak character, the actor allows us to sympathize with her plight. Norton is believable as the charming, disarming, yet deceitful and selfish husband who will stop at nothing to keep his lies covered up.
When it comes to the horror aspect, Things Heard & Seen delivers. There’s not a constant barrage of boo-jumps, but the few moments of supernatural scares the filmmakers choose to expose visually are effective indeed.
Things Heard & Seen is an absorbing, slow-burn tale that is best seen (and heard) at night or on a rainy afternoon.
Check out Things Heard & Seen on Netflix when it debuts on April 29, 2021.