Thursday, April 29, 2021

A house with a creepy secret

 Fresh from her Oscar-nominated turn as Marion Davies in Mank, Amanda Seyfried turns up as a troubled spouse in Things Heard & Seen, a movie that takes a stab at serious horror but can't puncture the  fog of cliches that settles over it.
    Adapted from a novel by Elizabeth Brundage, the story follows Seyfried's Catherine Clarie when she accompanies her husband (James Norton) to a small college in upstate New York in the 1980s. 
     Having just earned his doctorate, Norton's George makes a big impression on the head of his department (F. Murray Abraham), an academic with a keen interest in the spiritually oriented philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg. Abraham's character also conducts seances. 
     Hey, somebody has to believe in ghosts,  otherwise a major part of the movie would qualify as an exploration of clinical insanity, which — come to think of it — might have been more intriguing.
     Perhaps to abet the movie's spiritual/paranormal flirtations, George professes an interest in George Inness, a 19th Century  American painter and devotee of Swedenborg with a talent for creating eerie landscapes.
    It doesn't take long before the fishy stuff begins. 
    Catherine abandoned her career restoring art to support George's professional life. Instead of expressing his gratitude, George gaslights her.
    Annoyingly affable, George barely conceals his dark side. He blames his wife's mounting unease on her eating disorder, a serious subject the movie irresponsibly neglects. 
   The isolated house into which George moves his wife and four-year-old daughter (Ana Sophia Heger) has a secret history, and the supporting cast suggests other avenues of exploration that mostly fizzle.
   Another couple (James Urbaniak and Rhea Seehorn) become part of the new arrivals' social network. George does waste much time before diving into hanky-panky, starting an affair with a young woman (Natalia Dyer) who works at a local stable.
    Alex Neustaedter portrays a handy man who works on the Claire home; he knows the secrets of the house and is sympathetic to Catherine. 
    Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini rely on at least one unforgivably convenient plot development and, most unfortunately, aren't always able to draw a clear enough line between what might deemed ghostly and what's just plain goofy.

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