An artist relocates to the Hudson Valley and begins to suspect that her marriage has a sinister darkness, one that rivals her new home's history.
Based on the novel ‘All Things Cease to Appear’ by Elizabeth Brundage, Things Heard and Seen brings new light - and darkness - to the meaning of supernatural horror, also mixing and brilliantly balancing this genre with that of a crime thriller. Amanda Seyfried (Catherine) and James Norton (George) lead the philosophical plot basis as it is driven by the theories of Emanuel Swedenborg and paintings by George Inness which are very much inspired by Swedenborg’s work themselves. You may already be able to piece this together as I briefly describe the film’s context that there are many different elements intertwined throughout the two hour experience, but don’t let that pull you away from giving it a chance.
Simply put, and attempting to keep as much of the main plot as possible somewhat of a mystery, Swedenborg suggested that everything within this natural world of ours has an equivalent in the spiritual world. Through this, death can be viewed as a new beginning rather than an end. It is explained in the film when made appropriate that evil spirits are attracted to evil people in the natural world, with the same applying to the good of the spiritual and natural settings. This is where Things Heard and Seen introduces an aspect that I personally haven’t seen much of before; where individuals are ‘haunted’ by spirits but not in a way where they want to harm them. They want to protect them from harm in both of the stated worlds instead. It gives the film quite a special sense of bonding, especially when the main characters severely struggle in their marriage even before entering an environment that carries both death and peace, however in unequal measurements.
Being able to transfer such writing into visual representation proved difficult at times from a viewing perspective, although no one could expect a plot like this to carry through totally smoothly from start to finish. The last act appears quite sparse in regards to impact despite actually having an incredible climax; this section of the story feels partially hurried as well. The characters are running out of time to cover up their lies and horrid deeds, so some may see this approach as valid, but it alternatively felt more as if the film itself was running out of time. Like trying to meet a deadline before the clock strikes twelve rather than working through the process with elegance and planning. Nevertheless, I loudly applaud Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini for their writing work on this elaborate plot.
The cinematography (Larry Smith) is very encapsulating, and dare I say quite enchanting even though Things Heard and Seen‘s content is the complete opposite. The natural positioning of the camera and smooth movements in expansive scenes compliment the complex plot – rather than overloading the film with a lot more extravagant techniques through cinematography, this more settled and serene approach to camera movement and direction rather enhances the steps of storytelling.
Amanda Seyfried never seems to disappoint with her presence on screen, and definitely never disappoints when she is playing a character with a convoluted emotional structure. Seyfried carries most of the emotional weight as the film progresses, showcasing her exceptional talent. It was her performance in particular that stood out from everyone else in my eyes. Her expression and progression of character is almost jaw-dropping here which runs beautifully alongside such an in depth plot line.
Things Heard and Seen, now streaming on Netflix, is a film I do recommend if you feel interested in spending an afternoon pondering over philosophical meanings and filling your brain with some enticing matching visuals. Audience members have said that it is completely forgettable but trust me when I say a lot of events that unfold will stick in your mind for a while after viewing. It might not be the five star must-see that one would hope for, yet it is still widely enjoyable in its comparative uniqueness.