It’s rare that a film starts as bad as this one does and still manages to stick the landing. Things Heard & Seen begins as a typical haunted house story riddled with cliches but somewhere along the way, the film finds a hold in the power of fate, destiny, and justice outside the law. This film from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is less horror and more spirituality, where the ghosts are the least of our worries.
George (James Norton) and Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) move to the Hudson Valley with their young daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) into a large house from the 1800s. Naturally, it has a bloody history involving the original owners of the house and the most recent owners, the Vayle family, whose lone survivors, Eddie (Alex Neustaedter) and Cole (Jack Gore), get hired by Catherine to tend to the house and land. Corny horror tropes plague the first half of this film, with little to no tension before the hauntings start. Electricity flickers, ghostly lights float through the air, sticking a hand down the sink yields nasty results—it’s all predictable, and yet it persists.
Dialogue is the film’s weakest spot, with characters philosophizing in unearned moments about their lives we’re never fully invited into. Instead of showing us emotion, characters say “That’s sad” and another one replies “It is sad.” The history of Eddie and his brother Cole, along with the history of the house, unfold at random points or are told through random bits of monologues. Not even the performances from a talented cast can save some of these scenes. No one ever truly feels like a real character, the way they speak sounding more like they’re reading their own wikipedia pages.
Around half-way through the film, something changes. It doesn’t necessarily become great, but there’s a lot to be said for a film being “interesting” and Things Heard & Seen takes a huge interest in just how awful George can be. When the film stops trying to scare you with supernatural horror, it instead turns to a true-crime mystery involving George, his affairs, and his carefully crafted identity. Whereas the backstory for a lot of the characters that make up the Hudson Valley are mentioned in dumps of dialogue, George’s unfolds at a steady pace. The supernatural haunting is almost a red herring to the real horror, and what seems like innocuous details of George’s life soon draw a better picture of who Catherine married. The pivot to the real villain is perfectly timed; while some things are still predictable, enough mystery remains that you’re figuring George out at the exact time the film wants you to.
The ghosts don’t get totally dropped. Their role actually ends up being a fascinating take on the haunted house trope, no matter how cliche it began. Involving the supernatural in a film about how awful men can be leads right into a truly bonkers ending. It might not be totally satisfying for some people, but in a film that begins with a knocked over rocking chair as its first sign of a haunting, the end is worth the terrible dialogue and lame hauntings.