Netflix’s latest horror thriller, “Things Heard & Seen” is a deeply unsettling work of art which questions the purity of the human soul. While at times the film tends towards campy special effects and overly dramatic lighting, the story is not only tragic, but serves as a tale of woe and warning. The movie, which was released Apr. 29, follows Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and George Claire (James Norton) as they move into their new house and discover its dark history. In the process, the audience unpacks some of George’s unsavory past.
The symbolism in this film is extremely entertaining for anyone who loves art history, the Hudson River Valley School or themes of romanticism, which portray a certain untamable wilderness that punishes human transgression. Art is shown or discussed in almost every scene in this movie, not just to be foreboding, but because it is a significant facet of the main characters’ lives as they both met at school while studying art history. Additionally, comparing the art that Catherine prefers to that which George does, offers an ominous look into what they struggle understanding throughout the film. While George idolizes grand and wild landscapes, Catherine generally finds herself looking at portraits and stained glasses faces. This emphasizes her need to understand the ghosts she encounters in her home as well the circularity of fate that she is destined to combat. George loves the grand landscapes, but the paintings also represent this idea of punishment coming from an uncontrollable force. Catherine’s keen perception of the otherworldly faces in her home just furthers her connection with the art that she is near for most of the film.
“Things Heard & Seen” is not just an average horror story. Rather than the ghosts playing a significantly malevolent role, they are generally peaceful and mostly have good intentions. Additionally, this film does such a wonderful job slowly, but surely villainizing George as a horrible man and narcissist. Without giving too much of the plot away, it’s important to note that these characters feel so real that when George rages, it can be truly infuriating to watch as he gets away with so much, partially due to his privilege as a white man in academia, but also because he is a true psychopath with no awareness of what guilt feels like.
The lead character, Catherine, is a strong woman, something that can be somewhat of a rarity in horror flicks. She is not only independent and curious, but also a careful and judgement free observer of all that is around her. While this specific trait of hers built up much of the tension in this thriller, it was frustrating to see her will to forgive her husband deteriorate, without ever talking to him. To be frank, her affair storyline feels underdeveloped and comes out of the blue. In a way, it humanizes her, but this complexity is not addressed much later in the film. Her innocence before this point does not come into question. Her saintly qualities are part of the reason her husband’s betrayals cut so deeply. That being said, her affair took away from the emotional resonance of her goodness and sincerity.
Nonetheless, this film produces a slow, yet heavy burn that leaves audiences feeling frustrated and unsettled. “Things Heard & Seen” is a magnificent film in that it is as unpredictable and brutish as the art that it attempts to embody. While the ending leaves some questions unanswered and turns the film into something more akin to magical realism rather than a true supernatural drama, it ties everything together and prosecutes George for his salacious and dastardly deeds.
“Things Heard & Seen” is available on Netflix.
By Kyra Matus