If you take a closer look at a decent haunted house movie, you will almost always see a story about people feeling trapped by a larger aspect of their life. Horror film protagonists Dealing with an Evil Doll can at least try to get rid of it; Slasher victims can at least try to run away from danger. And people threatened by something they don’t understand, be it a curse or a creature, always can Do some research and try to deal with the unknown. But a home is an obligation, a sunken price that is difficult to walk away from. In a movie like Netflix’s startling new horror drama Heard and seen thingsThe haunted house is a metaphor as well as a horror device, a symbol of a place that should, but shouldn’t, be a warm, protective home, and a symbol of a commitment that is difficult to escape. And as a metaphor, it’s the most consistent and compelling thing in a bizarrely confused movie.
Amanda Seyfried and The NeversJames Norton plays Catherine and George Claire, a couple who raised a 4-year-old daughter, Franny, in Manhattan in 1980. Catherine has a satisfying job as a skilled art res torer, but when George announces to her friends that he has completed his dissertation and has been offered a teaching position at a private college in New York state, she meekly abandons her career without complaining to a close friend that she owes her support to George. There is clearly something wrong with Catherine’s life as she starves herself and forces herself to vomit what she eats and even winces early when George chooses her new home in the tiny town of Chosen, for example. Put pressure on her when she shows even token resistance.
It turns out she is right to resent his insistence on the house: the place has seen some horrors, and there is an active supernatural presence there. The following slowly burning ghost story begins at least in most respects according to the usual haunted house rules: Electric lights flicker, Franny sees a mysterious female figure in her room, objects in the house move without being touched, and so on. But one thing that is immediately unusual Heard and seen things is that Catherine doesn’t seem particularly irritated by the appearance or effects. She immediately begins to sympathize with the household spirit, and when George’s boss Floyd (F. Murray Abraham, always delightful) puts his warm and supportive theories on spiritualism in front of her, she is immediately up for a seance – with George, a despicable cynic, clearly not invited.
Heard and seen things, based on Elizabeth Brundage’s 2016 novel All things cease to appearspends most of its running time building an unconventional ghost story out of an entirely conventional relationship drama. Catherine and George’s marriage is very similar to the similarly frayed relationship in Sean Durkins The nestwith a reasonable percentage of The talented Mr. Ripley He is a liar and a cheater who blames their behavior for his decisions. In the meantime, she sheds light on him about her eating disorder and hides how miserable she is, while at the same time finding reasons to be passive-aggressively unkind to him. The otherworldly power in the house is drawn to their conflict and resentment – or is it perhaps feeding them? That’s one of those things that is obviously obscure to the abrupt, confusing end.
The way the narrative falls apart is a particular shame, as for much of its course the film is a compelling melodrama, an “elevated horror” story that limits the cheap shocks and cracks and makes them unusual through its own Rules for the narrative replaced supernatural. As one visitor tells Catherine, evil spirits are only attracted to evil people, which means that the spirit that tries to contact her is a kind and benevolent one, unless it is harboring the evil. In this particular fantasy, ghosts are specifically attracted to people who they mirror in some way, and Catherine’s ghost may react to their troubled marriage.
The story goes in some pretty exaggerated directions as the unexpected revelations pile up, but by fully blending a supernatural horror story with a bleak family drama, screenwriters Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American splendor, A nanny’s diaries) bring some fresh energy to both genres and steer them away from the usual predictable structures. As gripping as haunted house films like His House, The incantation, Stirring the echoesand even the upper floor poltergeist and as much as they toy with the idea of being tied to a place and fearful of it at the same time, they all follow escalation patterns that are mostly “scary mind gets scary”. Heard and seen things Gains substantial just by undermining that expectation.
But the fighting drama doesn’t go as far from the familiar streets, in part because of the way Catherine feels connected to the house and the way she feels connected to their fidgeting marriage, in part because Berman and Pulcini never fully connect with each other. Seyfried gives her presence and attraction, but as a character she never has much freedom of choice. Catherine is initially put down by factors that are never fully explained: is her eating disorder intended as an indication of the stress she was under in their relationship, or should she make excuses for her lack of energy and focus? Are there specific reasons why she is afraid to resist George or does her obedience come from her family history or personality? Who is she really As possible answers come into focus and she learns more about who George really is, she takes less and less action and withdraws into a sneaky, irritable passivity that is not mandatory for a protagonist and only serves the narrative by making it longer pull out so George can get away with more.
And then there is the ridiculous final sequence, which not only assumes that the audience has completely internalized the film’s invented rules for the supernatural, but can also intuitively understand many more of them. Also, it is assumed that they are willing to join in on ridiculous and unjustified events as long as they feel at least a little like justice. The ending is a bold piece in a movie full of bold pieces, but it seems meant to be more of a stimulus for discussion than rounding up the narrative or giving viewers either a horror movie catharsis or a marriage drama fixture. Haunted house movies are usually about people stuck in one place with no good opportunities to get away. Heard and seen things continues this trend, rendering Catherine unable to escape into a memorable conundrum for much of its life. But the movie’s eventual breakdown is also inevitable, and when it goes down it takes with it all of the movie’s accumulated goodwill.
Heard and seen things is now streamed on Netflix.