The narrative of the American horror drama, Things Heard & Seen chronicles the falling foundation of marriage while meandering in a supernatural realm. The film is directed by the husband and wife duo of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It is based on a novel by Elizebeth Brundage, called “All Things Cease To Appear.” In films that rely heavily on atmospherics, cinematography itself becomes a character. Larry Smith is exceptional as the DOP, adding the hue of gloominess to the whole narrative. The film stars the very talented Amanda Seyfried and James Nortan as Catherine and Geroge Clair, respectively.
‘Things Heard & Seen’ Summary
The year is 1980. Somewhere in Hudson Valley, a car pulls up in the garage. The grainy and cold lines of snow over the roof and the trees give evidence of a rough night. The air carries a frosty and bitter disdain within itself.
A man comes out of the car. He sees that blood drops from the ceiling of the garage on the windshield. He rushes inside the house. We cut to a much brighter setting from the past where the daughter is celebrating her birthday. George has got a job in Saginaw, in a small college as an art professor. Catherine on the other hand has to sacrifice her career to move with George. She is not elated about it but she prioritizes her marriage over her career. They move to their house in Saginaw where Catherine starts to notice certain anomalies. It all starts from assumptions but slowly she gets enough proof that their house is being shared by someone else too. In the meantime till these revelations are made their marriage becomes more and more toxic. George is a convenient liar and a narcissist of the highest order. As Catherine puts it, he always gets what he wants. He is popular among his female students and often indulges in infidelity quite casually.
Catherine finds respite in Floyd, played by the amazing F. Murray Abraham, who is also the chair of George’s college. He believes her when she says that spirits are present in the house. He was a patron of the Swedish philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, who wrote a book on the concept of the afterlife.
Rhea Seahorn plays Justine, who is a colleague of George’s. She sees through him and makes a correct assumption about his dishonest and corrupt behavior.
At one end the marriage falls apart like a giant creaking oak tree, now not able to grip the grounds by its roots and on the other hand, the supernatural presence irks, scares, and triggers their innate behaviors to get out of control.
Major Spoilers Ahead
There are some patented routes used to depict the horror, for example, a Lynchian style flickering lamp, or the shadow of the ghost. But here it doesn’t feel that cliche because of the way it is embedded in the narrative. Also, it is not the center of attraction, and neither the film gives it that much importance. It just takes place in the background among other things.
Emanuel Swedenborg’s philosophy of life after death plays a key role in building the supernatural part of the film. The philosophy says that afterlife the spirits reside in an intermediate realm which is neither hell nor heaven. Also, there is no such thing as evil spirit. When an evil person welcomes a spirit then it takes out the evil in him. The spirit is like that shadow that shows your real self in an amplified manner.
Though the premise is quite authentic yet this supernatural aspect is the weakest link of the film. Its presence neither hinders the narrative nor affects it positively.
‘Things Heard & Seen’ Ending Explained
“He who is evil is also in a punishment of evil.”
We see George sailing in the end on Floyd’s boat. It’s the same boat on which he had killed Floyd. Inscribed on the boat is a phrase, “Lost Horizon.” it clearly depicts the state of mind George is in. He has completely lost it. He knows he is embracing evil or maybe he himself is the evil.
According to Swedenborg’s philosophy, there were no evil spirits. There were only evil men. It was said by him that nobody sends us to heaven or hell. It is what we choose. We are attracted to a certain way of living and henceforth we move towards a place that encourages that sort of living. The film also says in the end,
“the gates of hell are visible to only those who are about to come into it.”
So nobody forced Geroge to kill Floyd or Catherine. He was like that. There is no spirit that makes us do something that we don’t want. Much like consuming alcohol. We blame it for our irrational behavior but it is just showing an extreme side of emotion or behavior that exists inside us. It was George throughout. And now he rows his boat closer to the gates of hell, only because that is what he chose for himself.
Overall, Things Heard & Seen has an authentic premise and backed by quite a deep philosophy of Emanual Swedenborg. The stronghold of the film is not its horror part but the breaking fragments of Catherine’s and George’s marriage. Their characters are intriguing and their arcs are very beautifully written. Where on one hand George is just peeling his sophisticated upper layer and exposing the degeneracy of what lies below, on the other hand, Catherine is just becoming steadfast about what she wants. Timid opinions give way to a vociferous voice that has the power of looking in the eye and making a point.
Amanda Seifried and James Nortan are exceptional in their respective characters. Even out bare and skanky bones they create fleshy and juicy performances.
Streaming on Netflix, Things Heard & Seen leaves you with something to be intrigued by, even when you know that it is not satisfactorily executed.
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