Things Heard and Seen (Review)

Sometimes, you have to give a film credit for trying. And, you know what, Things Heard and Seen (another disposable Netflix film that has gained attention purely to a couple of notable stars) certainly tries. It tries to touch on wider themes: transcendental and theological horror (hinting at Blakean and more widely Romanticist concepts); cycles of patriarchal oppression and the pernicious world of academia. However, the film also tries your patience and, fundamentally, tries too hard. It is an infrequently compelling but mostly crushingly dull re-tread of familiar films.

In this period piece, we follow a family who have moved into a house that harbours – unbeknownst to one of them – a dark past. The film is vaguely a haunted house movie, but mostly forgets to be anything. Primarily, it is an unengaging marital drama. The family is a husband (moved here for a professorship), a wife (left an excellent job to become a housewife) and a four year-old (is just four) whose existence the film keeps forgetting. Genuinely, the film will go for long stretches and then catapult this infant back into the plot, before ignoring them when that is more convenient. Regarding the film as a whole, for a few minutes, everything seems fine – with the setup paving the road for simmering resentment and an exploration of gendered dynamics. Alas, this setup is ignored in favour of making our male lead, James Norton (who is not good here, but the script and direction was never going to let him be), as detestable as possible.

Of course, you don’t have to like a character for a film to work, but they do have to compel. Our male lead is boring, artificial and utterly dislikeable. He seeks out an affair almost instantly and has no qualities that make him even slightly engaging. He is the kind of person you would always ignore or avoid in real life – and not even be voyeuristically intrigued by – and then the film asks you to spend two hours with him. Two hours in which he is just an arse. And he is an arse in such expected and clichéd ways. Though, this is of a piece with the film. It is mostly just ticking-on-by and being boring, then remembers it is technically a horror film and engages in a jump scare or some horror imagery. It all feels out of place and far too heavy handed.

In general, nothing here completely works. However, there are moments of interest. The film is in the orbit of interesting ideas and, at its heart, is something brilliant – it just never reveals this heart. The more theological and transcendental bent is fascinating, though our male lead keeps actively steering the film away from it. And, though everything in here has been done elsewhere, and done better, the core tropes do carry some innate satisfaction – enough at least to grant this a base watchability. This certainly is not a good film, but it does have moments. Alas, these flashes of a better film ultimately work against it and leave this as something best neither heard or seen.

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