The film is set in 1980, a magical time when square-jawed white academics were still encouraged to swindle the world into giving them whatever they wanted. A newly minted Columbia Ph.D. who pivots from painting to writing to teaching as if he were running a Ponzi scheme for his medium talents, George is even more petrified of his mediocrity than we imagine at the start of the movie, while Catherine — a respected art restorer whose Christian faith is more latent than lapsed — doesn’t seem to hear the self-negation in her voice when she tells a friend that she “owes it” to her husband to sacrifice her career as kindling for his. She purges such doubts in the bathroom rather than air them in public.
The movie opens on a note of auspicious creepiness. A man (Norton) pulls into the garage of a ramshackle rural home only to have drops of blood splatter the windshield — and then, when he steps out of the car, his face. He looks up, realizing that the crimson leak is coming from the ceiling. A few shots later, he's running toward the camera with a little girl in his arms.
Things Heard & Seen is highly watchable, with an effective 40 minutes or so of character-driven buildup grounded in Seyfried's sympathetic performance. But Berman and Pulcini's failure to generate suspense becomes problematic during a second-half that settles into standard psycho-spouse thriller rhythms with some half-assed ghost-story and feminist elements tossed in. It's an odd match of a screenplay (adapted by Berman and Pulcini) that's too obvious, telegraphing rather than teasing out its twists, and overly timid direction; one gets the sense that the filmmakers are checking off genre tropes and tricks from a list instead of finding ways to invest them with fresh chills or shivers.
The most interesting aspect of “Things Heard & Seen” is its scenes from a marriage that’s falling apart in slow motion. Seyfried knows how to bury Catherine’s resentment so that it simmers just under the surface of encounters, and Norton, who looks like a dreamboat version of Michael Murphy, knows how to play a husband who’s a narcissist and maybe worse. He does it by trying to reel in the gaslighting side of himself, which only exposes it more.
The writer-directors might have juiced things up by sticking closer to Catherine — and in doing so, allowing some dread and mystery to ripen around George. Seyfried is certainly up to the task. The actress doesn't need to overplay Catherine's tremulousness or contort her face into a Munch-like mask of terror; with those wide, anxious eyes, she's a natural scream queen. Unfortunately, the film often ditches Catherine to tag along with George on his weaselly exploits. And Norton, as a man who, after years of coasting on good looks and glib charm, finds his narcissism catching up with him, gives away too much too soon; George is so transparently sketchy he's never menacing.
But while the movie keeps returning to the idea of death as a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, it never finds a way to connect the two sides of the story it’s telling, which ultimately defangs them both. As the final stretch of “Things Heard & Seen” evokes everything from “Hereditary” to “A Place in the Sun” and even “The House that Jack Built” as it scrambles to close the gap that forms an irreconcilable distance between Catherine and George, Berman and Pulcini’s movie feels as if it’s more haunted by unrealized potential than anything else.
Final Score – [7.5/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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