Things Heard & Seen

At the Movies Blog

Amanda Seyfried and F. Murray Abraham in a seance scene.

Critics are such idiots. They all praised A Quiet Place, which was okay, but very flawed. They’re all knocking this, which has a few flaws, but was very interesting. The entire two hours watching this, my wife and I were never bored (and I had to talk her into watching it).

I had meant to review it sooner, but got busy with so many other films coming out, and writing about the Oscars and other things. I’m glad I finally got around to this Netflix original. It’s an amazing cast, and a solid film. Now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen a few of these things before. I also think it could have had a few more scares than it did, but…I’d much prefer a story like this, that’s intriguing with great, layered performances, then a bunch of jump scares.

The two who wrote and directed this (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini), are a couple in real life, and worked on Shameless and American Splendor. They adapted the Elizabeth Brundage novel All Things Cease to Appear (which to me, is a better title than Things Heard & Seen). 

This is a marriage that we can see having problems early on. George (James Norton) has accepted a teaching position at a college in upstate New York. His wife Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) doesn’t seem thrilled about leaving Manhattan, where she works as an artist restoring antique pieces.

It was a smart decision to give Catherine an eating disorder, as we slowly start to see what she’s dealing with in her marriage. She also feels isolated and doesn’t have much of a social life, unless it’s helping her husband dazzle the new faculty.

The old farmhouse they purchase is haunted (which doesn’t really need a spoiler alert, although I won’t tell much more of the plot so as to not spoil any other elements). This takes place in 1980, and the whole film is shot beautifully, with a gothic vibe. You get nervous when Catherine hires a few local boys as handmen, especially since we see them creepily spying on her when they first move in. Maybe I just got nervous because I remember seeing Stephen King’s Children of the Corn when I was a kid.

Seyfried has gotten a lot of attention for Mank, but the performance she’s done that really impressed me over the last few years was in First Reformed (a Paul Schrader film with Ethan Hawke). It’s refreshing that she wasn’t cast here only to scream, look scared, and be a doormat. Again, those dopey critics all praised The Invisible Man as some feminist film, and it was garbage. In this, Seyfried has to pull off a range of emotions and none of it is over-the-top, and some of it shows her character to be strong. It’s refreshing that she’s not a push-over.

It’s also refreshing that the police in this small town aren’t a bunch of dolts who can’t figure anything out. They’re having conversations that feel authentic to what would happen during an investigation into a crime.

Norton does a great job of not just playing a flirtatious professor. We can see how he’d charm people (whether it’s the coeds in his class, or the department head), as well as be a dangerous narcissist that might go all “Here’s Johnny!” at any moment. And when it starts snowing in the third act, and we’ve seen an axe used to chop wood…

This film is just so nuanced in ways that a film of this genre usually isn’t, and it made for such an enjoyable watch.

It’s always great to see F. Murray Abraham on screen. Other than a few animated films (like the terrific Isle of Dogs), the last time I recall seeing him was eight years ago in one scene in Inside Llewyn Davis).

Seeing Karen Allen and Michael O’Keefe reminded me fondly of my movie-going experiences in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. 

Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) plays a sexy, but somewhat troubled character. What bothers me most is when she’s hanging out with her friend (Alex Neustaedter of Colony), they’re smoking in a truck. You can barely hear five seconds of the song on the radio. It’s Fools in Love from Joe Jackson’s amazing debut album Look Sharp! (if you have the means, I highly recommend you pick up a copy). If the filmmakers are getting the rights to use this terrific tune (which came out the year before this film takes place in 1980), let us hear it!!!

Another great choice in music is having Neustaedter at the piano, playing Louis Armstrong’s appropriate tune Someday (You’ll Be Sorry), as the angry husband saunters into the room. I’m guessing that will be lost on most audiences.

The finale of this was a tad frustrating, but also…kinda cool.

If you get a chance to watch this movie on Netflix, you should.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

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