Things Heard & Seen
Complex thriller has violence, language, drinking, drugs.
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Things Heard & Seen
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Things Heard & Seen is a psychological thriller based on the novel by Elizabeth Brundage that has jump scares, adult themes, and some graphic violence. Amanda Seyfried and James Norton play the main characters, a professional couple who move to the country in 1980. One person is killed violently in an explicit scene with a lot of blood. Others are killed or injured or said to have been murdered, but these are not seen as graphically on screen, except when a car is forced off the road and the victim is seen comatose and with casts in a hospital bed or when a man appears to be lost at sea, potentially on purpose. Ghostly spirits appear and seem to have the power to incite people to act, and there are strange noises, sounds, and smells in a haunted house. Adults drink, sometimes to excess, smoke and grow weed, and drive erratically after smoking. Two people are drugged without knowing it. A woman suffers from bulimia and disordered eating. There are some sex scenes where the physical act of sex is implied by conversations, heavy kissing, a woman putting her hand in a man's pants, and a woman lying on a bed in her underwear. A man masturbates in the shower, and we see his body nude from behind in two scenes. A young boy looks at a woman's nipple showing under her shirt. Men make jokes about sexual orientations, using terms like "closet lesbian" or "first class homo." A man suggests he was ostracized in a past job for reporting sexual misconduct. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "chickens--t," "damned," "goddamn," "hell," "rednecks," "psycho," "God," "Jesus Christ."
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What's the Story?
George (James Norton) and Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) are a young, professional couple with a small child about to move from the city to upstate New York in 1980 in THINGS HEARD & SEEN. George has recently completed his doctorate and earned a position as an art history professor at a rural college. The couple purchases an old house on a defunct dairy farm, and strange things start happening. Lights flicker, odd smells emanate from the garage, and Catherine and her daughter sense a presence in the home. Catherine begins investigating the house and uncovers some of its checkered history. George questions Catherine's efforts and gets increasingly uncomfortable with her new connections in town. George's boss, Floyd (F. Murray Abraham), forms part of a group that believes in spirits and he offers Catherine help. What they don't know is whether the spirits will be good or evil, and what their intentions are.
Is It Any Good?
This film effectively creates a sense of malaise and provides at least a couple of jump scares by combining a dramatic storyline with layered characters and an evocative setting. The spirits haunting the Claire family in Things Heard & Seen are sufficiently spooky, and there is one chillingly violent scene, but viewers should expect more of a complex, character-driven slow boil than an edge-of-seat thriller. The characters and ambience are what give this film its soul and ultimately its suspense. Charming and handsome college professor George looks perfect on paper, but the film doesn't take long before raising doubts about him and the young couple's marriage. The floppy-haired, khakis-clad Norton is perfect for the role, but Seyfried is the film's real star. As the wide-eyed but world-weary main character, she does a skillful job expressing Catherine's emotional evolution over the course of the film. There are layers to Catherine that complicate and deepen the character, such as a history of disordered eating and a bristling against gender expectations of 1980, including the impetus for her marriage, the abandonment of her career, the gradual distrust of her husband, and a timid exploration of feminism.
Another rationale behind the film's period setting is to allow for a time before cell phones or internet research, absences which further isolate the characters and keep them in the dark. Catherine begins unraveling the mystery of their seemingly-haunted house by visiting the local historical society, going to the library, talking with neighbors. This is where supporting cast come in, to provide explanations, support, and warnings. F. Murray Abraham and Rhea Seehorn, who play two of George's colleagues drawn to a deeper connection with Catherine, bring gravitas to the cast. The younger locals, played by Stranger Things' Natalia Dyer and Colony's Alex Neustaedter, are sketched more superficially and used mainly as plot devices; Dyer's character practically disappears mid-film. Academic life also feels a tad stereotyped here, but George's specialization in the work of nineteenth century painter George Inness, who flirted with the mystical ideas of Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, provides the entrée for supernatural themes. These inform the film's ending, which could disappoint some viewers, especially after such a patient, detailed build-up of story and characters.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about whether Things Heard & Seen is a straight horror film, or whether they would classify it in another genre category. Did you find the film scary? Suspenseful?
Do you believe in ghosts? Do you think some spirits might be good and others evil?
How does George's academic research come to life when the couple moves upstate? Are you familiar with the work of George Inness or Emanuel Swedenborg? Where could you go for more information?
Catherine suffers from an eating disorder. How does this affect her? Do you know anyone with a similar problem? Where can they go for help?
- On DVD or streaming: April 28, 2021
- Cast: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, Natalia Dyer
- Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 28, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
Good but creepy; may be too intense for some.
One of the all-time great haunted house movies.
Terrifying paranormal horror movie based on a true story.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Full of murder and deceit; too violent for kids.
For kids who love scary movies
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