In Brief: Good ghost stories are hard to find. Guess what? You just found one.
Ghost story movies these days all look pretty much the same. Once in awhile one comes along that moves the needle a bit. Things Heard & Seen gives it a push. Writers and directors, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini plunk a psychopath and a family into a house full of ghosts in a village in New York.
Duplicity dots the plot’s landscape.
James Norton (Little Women) plays George Claire. His wife, Catherine, is done by Amanda Seyfried who was recently nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her supporting performance in Mank.
They got married because Catherine was pregnant. Catherine is an artist whose talents are stifled in the small town. He’s a college professor with a very bright future. She’s bored. He’s rocking.
Catherine and her daughter see ghosts and experience ghostly doings. His boss — done nicely by F. Murray Abraham — is a fan of a philosopher who believes in ghosts and their influence on this world.
That connects him with Catherine.
From there, Berman and Pulcini weave real world happenings with that of ghosts. It works very, very well. The acting is quite good but it is Norton who gives the standout performance. From the outside George looks deep and interesting. On the inside, he’s shallow and scary.
Best of all Norton’s villainy slowly evolves. It’s great work that allows Seyfried and the other actors to easily dance around his focused performance.
As they proved with 2004’s American Splendor and The Nanny Diaries, Berman and Pulcini are excellent storytellers. Unlike most ghost story directors and writers, they hold back and don’t overdo the ghosts. It’s done subtly. That — and the actions of George — add tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The film’s troubles come in the third act and the story’s conclusion. Things Heard & Seen is based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel, All Things Cease to Appear. The two writer/directors seem to have no idea how to do the ending of her book.
Most of us like to be left thinking when it comes to the end of a movie, and having to puzzle out in my mind what might or might not be in the future for this character or that. However, in the case of a film like “Things Heard & Seen, we want and need more. The why of George’s actions at the climax, and that of the other characters needs a better explanation.
This is one of the best horror films you’ve seen in a long time. Fix the bad ending about George’s bad ending and this is even better. However, and negatives aside, the movie is very, very good and it’s worth a couple hours of your time.
Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Rhea Seahorn, Alex Neustaedter, Natalia Dyer, Karen Allen
Rated R for language, violence, brief nudity and mature themes. A hauntingly good haunted house story with a not-so-hot and not-so-haunting ending. The beginning and the middle more than make up for a bad ending.
You can see Things Heard & Seen exclusively on Netflix.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.