★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Serious question. Are horror movies required to be scary? Can they just pass off a sense of dread and doom in other less frightening but equally provocative ways? Answer: it sure makes horror more horrifying if there’s some actual horror in the horror film.
The most recent Netflix offering, Things Heard and Seen, is sadly devoid of horror, scares, or anything that could considered to be remotely frightening. The film, directed by wife/husband duo, Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, is inexplicably set in 1980 and follows a husband and wife as they set out to find their footing in a rural community in the Hudson Valley.
George and Catherine Clairie (James Norton and Amanda Seyfried) and their daughter decide to ditch the trappings of big city life when George takes a job with a bucolic private school teaching art history. The Clairie family purchases a farmhouse with surrounding property, but in a fit of caveat emptor, isn’t aware that the previous owners — or potentially generations of previous owners — were all DAMNED!
Berman and Pulcini clumsily paint the seemingly perfect George and Catherine as the metaphorical and literal good/evil, god/devil, saintly/demonic, flawed/empathetic figureheads of the story. George is the narcissistic professor with a wandering eye and a growing mean streak and Catherine is a struggling and isolated art preservationist with an anorexia problem.
In the middle of their nuclear family is their daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) who begins to see vague apparitions of the matriarch of the former owners of the farmhouse. Catherine too begins to witness strange happenings as the directors exposition dump all over the film with painfully obviously clues and hints at the darkness of the previous owner(s).
The tension between George and Catherine continues to flatly ratchet up as George’s behavior becomes more and more sinister and off-putting. Catherine’s already fragile and anemic exterior becomes more and more frayed as she tries to down protein shakes and get to the bottom of the DAMNED ghosts and ghouls that may/may not be after her and her family.
In the end we’re left with two largely unlikeable characters, an unnecessary 1980s setting, a story that meanders around in a way-too-obvious good/evil binary headspace, and no scares. Possibly, the most off-putting quality about Things Heard and Seen is the fact that it contains no jump scares, no dread, and little frights in its entire two+ hour run time.
The flawed family with a hidden secret is an endless well of ghosty malfeasance, but viewing this dynamic through an erudite art professor and his perfectly/perfect wife and her protein shakes is a terribly boring adventure. Things Heard and Seen is made all the more boring by the fact that, while the film is marketed as a horror film, is throughly void of anything resembling a scare.
Things Heard and Seen is rated TV-MA and currently streaming on Netflix.