Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The setup for Netflix’s new ghost story, Things Heard & Seen, is as classic as they come: a young family buys their dream home in the country, and it turns out to be haunted. Building on these classic bones, Things Heard & Seen is elevated by timely themes and a strong cast. The supernatural creepiness is only the surface of this disturbing tale of haunted houses and the people who inhabit them.
That strong cast includes Oscar-nominated actor Amanda Seyfried (Veronica Mars, Mama Mia, Ted 2) starring as the supportive wife of up-and-coming art history professor James Norton (Doctor Who, Black Mirror), with terrific supporting roles by F. Murray Abraham (Star Trek: Insurrection, Amadeus), and Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul, American Dad). Even the small players are stellar: Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Arc) and Michael O’Keefe (Caddyshack) play the local real estate agent and sheriff, and Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) is a refreshing and layered addition to the cast. Keep an eye out for one of the best animal performances of the year.
The setting is 1979, upstate New York. Abandoning her own career as an art restorer to follow her husband’s rising path in academia, Catherine Clare is unprepared for the loneliness of small town life. While husband George is the toast of his small college, dazzling his students and peers, Catherine struggles to make new friends, and slowly discovers that their 1800s home has a sinister past—one everyone in town seems to know about but her. And that’s not the only secret being kept.
The plot twists here are a mix of the expected and the surprising, but it’s the pacing and performances that really bring out the darkness at the heart of Things Heard & Seen.
Revelations are doled out slowly, building steadily to an ultimately satisfying (if tragic) conclusion. There are a couple of odd missteps in the plot (an obvious failure to use Chekhov’s…er, Gun that makes you wonder where the writers were), but on the whole, this one is highly recommended for people who want a little more than atmosphere from their ghost stories. This has more plot than I am The Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, more theme than Skeleton Key, and more ghosts than Malice, but will appeal to fans of all those films.
A good thriller to try this weekend, Things Heard & Seen, based on the novel All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage, is streaming now on Netflix.