WHAT "Things Heard & Seen"
WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT It's 1980 and Catherine Clare (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband George (James Norton) move with their daughter from New York City to an upstate town when George takes an art history teaching job at a small college. Catherine is reluctant, but goes along for the sake of George's career.
Apparently having never seen a horror movie before, George arranges for them to move into a very old house with a haunting history. What could go wrong?
"Things Heard & Seen" is the latest movie from the husband-and-wife, writing-and-directing tandem of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who are best known for the exceptional "American Splendor." This latest is an adaptation of the novel "All Things Cease to Appear," by Elizabeth Brundage.
Co-stars include Rhea Seehorn ("Better Call Saul") and the great F. Murray Abraham.
MY SAY It's clear that the filmmakers think they're making an intelligent meditation on the divide between the living and supernatural realms and the burdens of a marriage built on imbalance and distrust.
But the truth is that no amount of references to Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, landscape painter George Inness or the Hudson River School art movement can compensate for inane plotting, inexplicable character development and a dearth of scary moments in a supposed horror picture.
You don't need more than a passing familiarity with the haunted house subgenre to know exactly what's coming here: the ghostly apparitions; the terrified child sprinting into her parents' room; the locals with secrets to hide.
My gosh, now devices won't turn off, even when they're unplugged, and look, there's Catherine having a surreal nightmare.
It's all crushingly predictable, advancing along the expected lines without even the slightest hint of something extra or new to bring to the same old symphony.
The house itself is utterly ordinary, without any production design to distinguish it from its cinematic predecessors. It's as if the filmmakers acquired it straight out of a horror movie catalog.
The story revolves around the dissolution of Catherine's marriage to George, as his deceitful conduct comes into focus. But George is so self-absorbed, so transparently awful that there's never a hint of what Catherine saw in him in the first place. A subplot involving her struggles with an eating disorder aims to provide some context for this, but it's treated as more of a plot device than a substantial character detail.
And when George starts really acting out, the movie totally unravels, requiring other characters to behave in contorted and unconvincing fashions in order for the plot to advance.
"Things Heard & Seen" is not an entirely lost cause: The Hudson Valley, with its moody and atmospheric qualities, acquits itself well as a horror movie setting. If the invocations of art history and centuries' old philosophy inspire some viewers to do some learning, that's a positive development.
But the movie is a lot sillier and less consequential than it thinks it is, yet another tired entry in an overwrought genre.
BOTTOM LINE You've seen all the "Things Heard & Seen" plenty of times before.