Can’t wait for the sequel Things smelt & felt.
This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
If you, like me, have an interest in exploring and rationalizing what appeals to you and why, then you should check out Things heard & seen; it is entertaining enough that it will keep your interest, but the ways it fails in most of the things it sets out to do is fascinating from the perspective of understanding why similar movies work and this one does not. Like the title suggests, you will see and hear things, but you will not experience them in the way audiovisual entertainment is supposed to achieve; like calling a novel “a sequence of words read”, the title is very representative of how much entertainment there is to be had in the movie, which is not a lot.
Directed by husband-and-wife duo, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, Things heard & seen stars Amanda Seyfried and James Norton as a couple moving to Hudson Valley where tensions between them rise and a sinister past may still haunt their new house. Catherine is a restoration artist who had a job she liked but now lets it all go for her husband George’s great opportunity to be a professor of art; while George seems to be off to a great start in their new life, Cathy seems to be having some adjustment issues, until she and her daughter start experiencing some creepy happenings around their new house. I won’t go into spoilers or how the movie develops its story, but I will say that it takes its time with showing the characters and setting up a pretty interesting sequence of events; in theory everything works pretty well, however that is about as close to praise as this movie will get from me.
Characters are the best way to showcase what I mean. From the protagonist Cathy to George, side characters Justine (played by Rhea Seehorn who I will always adore) and Floyd (played by the legend F. Murray Abraham), everything is set up and paid off correctly; the movie would make Chekhov very happy in the ways it uses almost every single trait or set up by the end. Actors have given very good performances throughout; Seyfried is a great actor and gives a great performance, while Norton, Seehorn, Abraham, Dyer (known for playing Nancy in Stranger Things), and pretty much the rest of the crew give solid performances. Yet, when it all comes together, all the important threads tied up, everything making sense, it all feels…neutral; like drinking room-temperature water right as you’ve become thirsty. More of a service rather than entertainment. The ending sequence is where things may skew for some people towards disappointing, as the movie goes the “heavy-handed” route of delivering its message and themes, and the antagonistic character becomes a bit cartoonish.
Even if you did find the ending to be disappointing, you would likely find enough to “excuse” the time you spent with the movie in one way or another; there are some solid scares, here and there, and there are a few visual highlights to keep the audience awake at least. However, that is the bare minimum any entertainment/art piece needs to reach, not a point of praise. For as many of the threads the movie ties up, there are a couple of blaring omissions that break suspension of disbelief; for the few good scares and the theoretically good character arcs, the movie never manages to solidify itself as a single thing and, in turn, never manages to sell its characters as people – they are tools in the writer’s arsenal.
My biggest problem with the movie is exactly that. It wants to be a drama about a couple with tensions that rise as more of its past comes into sharp focus; it wants to be a supernatural, spooky thriller about a haunted house; it wants to be a modern, character-driven, exploration of a dysfunctional relationship with a few nodes to mid-2000s erotic thrillers. It is neither of those things and it does none of those things well. That makes the movie bizarrely muddled and over-reliant on information and scenes that work for one ambition and feel completely out of place for the other two, regardless of the fact that none of it is well-executed, necessary on the whole, or interesting. For example, there is a focus on infidelity with a few subplots, the theme being the main focus of a few scenes, and it being an overarching consideration for the audience for the entirety of the runtime; however, it never felt tense, it didn’t really lead to anything, it wasn’t even sexy or emotional, and it took too much time to set up and execute for no apparent reason (This bit is a bit spoillery but necessary so beware). When we see George flirting and hooking up with a younger woman, it makes sense for George’s character and from a dramatic standpoint, but it is fluff for any supernatural aspirations. Then, when she breaks it off, it adds to the thriller aspirations, but any dramatic friction from that is completely gone. Lastly, when Cathy finds out from a chance meeting about her husband’s infidelity, she barely seems to register the information and changes nothing, because by that point the movie is trying to wrap up the supernatural stuff. I didn’t even mention the fact that Cathy has an incident herself which is far more bizarre, because it is with the son of the woman who haunts her house and I figured that’s the set up (angry ghost ending or something), but its not; it is about that character’s testimony to be waved off towards the end and to show how the young woman George was having an affair with is, can put this case to rest, but does not because she is (understandably) afraid – however, if I’m being honest, it felt like they forgot about the character and brought the actor back in for the last couple of days and got everything they could with her! Just to give you context on this, the infidelity subplot (as shown) barely matters and only takes up 10 or so minutes of actual screen time; getting into the actually “important” aspects would take hour long videos for each one!
Overall, Things heard & seen is a solid MEH and that is mostly down to the theory being there and the movie not being boring; a lot of staff happens, the movie looks good at least, and the actors do a good job. However, the lessons people can get from its failures and the extend of some of those failures are what fascinate me about this movie; I feel better equipped to understand why I like some aspects of other movies now and explain better why I don’t like the execution of those aspects on other movies. If that doesn’t interest you, steer clear, but if it does, then it is one of those movies that you should watch with a notepad to take notes on; at least for this one, there will be some entertaining stuff along the way – key word being some.