Amityville Horror meets Shirley in the 2021 psychological thriller, Things Heard & Seen, directed by Shari Springer and Berman Robert Pulcini. Amanda Seyfried and James Norton star as parents, Catherine and George Claire. Catherine the bulimic, art-restorer, and husband George, recently hired art history professor, are parents to their doe-eyed daughter, Franny, who in 1980s upstate New York, move into a house. In their 1800s colonial home, Catherine finds there to be something sinister hiding behind the old walls, as well as in her husband’s murky personal life.
The movie is separated in sections by the different seasons, and the Hudson Valley widescreen shots do not disappoint. Cinematographer Larry Smith takes an estimable approach, one that compliments Seyfried and creates an on-edge tone for the film, with filmed sequences only using fish lenses and other scenes composed of quick-moving camera maneuvers which successfully disorient the viewers.
Ancient pianos, seanes and a dreamy score all work in favor of the film’s misty ambiance but are hurt by the stilted script and underwhelming jump scares. The straightforward dialogue leaves something to be desired, and whether or not it’s just plain lazy or purposefully awkward to create a certain tone is unclear. And if the latter was what Berman and Pulcini were going for, they should’ve tried harder. F Murray Abraham’s wise Floyd repeatedly spells out for the audience the connection with the spiritual and physical world, something the audience has no trouble picking up themselves, and the artless dialogue between George and Willis (Natalia Dyer) is nothing short of uncomfortable.
The actual eeriness of the movie is both successfully executed at times, and missing in action during others, however, neighborhood boys Eddie and Cole Lucks are creepy from the start and assist the movie with its launch into the actual scariness promised by the movie. This, as well as the actual ghosts shown in the movie, work well to combat the otherwise dullness of thrill.
Despite the movie’s downfalls, Seyfried and Norton deliver very well, and their performances are simply put- the best thing to come out of the film. Seyfried saves the movie whilst being drenched in emotional turmoil and skepticism of her new town, while Norton captures the dishonest and loathsome role of the deceitful husband. Unfortunately, they are paired with the misused talent of Abraham and the abysmal performance made by Stranger Things star, Natalia Dyer, who falls short in almost every respect, from both physical awkwardness and a complete lack of acting ability.
The combination of a crumbling marriage and ghost story work well together on paper, but isn’t well executed in the film, as it seems unsure of where to find the balance between eeriness and romance. When you finally get comfortable with a new storyline involving an affair or domestic quarrel, Springer and Berman add a ghost, a sudden-playing radio or bursting lamp to confuse the audience.
The “Headless horseman country” James Urbaniak’s Bram states, is a gorgeous setting for the film, with an even more stunning cast, but falls short in every respect otherwise, and leaves you wishing you had just picked The Conjuring to watch instead.