TV-MA. It's a horror movie, I guess. There's some pretty brutal murder at one point in the movie. It's got uncomfortable material, including adultery and predatory behavior. TV-MA might be a bit much, but TV-14 would be too little. It's a pretty tame movie for a horror movie, bordering on boring at times. There are some pretty low-key jump scares, but that's not going to change people's opinions on jump scares. TV-MA.
DIRECTORS: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Oh my goodness. Yawn. Every year, I get my free pass for a horror movie. I'm not saying that I don't watch horror movies whenever I want. It's just that there's one that's tee'd up to be special. My wife will sit there while we're watching. And it seems, every Halloween, I pick something that is exceptionally dull and forgettable. Okay, last year was His House, but that was a lucky find. There are horror movies out there that I really want to watch. I swear there are. It's just that I don't feel particularly vulnerable when choosing movies that my wife will have to sit through. I think that there's this code in the back of my brain saying, "If you pick something that you know nothing about, you can't be judged for it when it sucks." And that's exactly how it played out this year.
Man, this movie did not know what it wanted to do. The result is something so anti-scary that it goes beyond boring. Again, I don't hate boring, especially if there's a payoff to that boredom. There isn't much in terms of actual story progression. Part of it is that the movie tries to do so much that it actually accomplished nothing. We just watched Maid, also a Netflix original. Maid deals with the reality of domestic abuse and toxic relationships in this amazingly nuanced way. Sean from Maid is way more despicable than George, despite committing fewer evils and having more sympathetic traits. The thing about George is that we never really have those moments where he has any level of nuance. Catherine, from moment one, is already in this sacrificial position. Her character deals with eating disorders, which instantly makes her sympathetic. She is moving to the country for the sake of her husband and we get that she is going to be ripped away from the world of art. From a tension perspective, it really works. But George never really has that descent into selfishness that someone in his position would have.
Our first view of George without Catherine is where he is trying to seduce Willis. Willis stresses how toxic George is, so there's no room for ambiguity. This is the director basically telling us that we're supposed to hate George from moment one. Yet, Willis still ends up sleeping with him. She abhors him and yet we get that moment where George becomes even more gross to us. Honestly, the movie spends so much time stressing that George is gross that by the time the big reveal about George appears, we're already hating on him pretty hard. All of the character development is spent on George. But that moment should be a shift in perspective on George. We are given all of this stuff that makes George a scumbag, but not a criminal. When his past is revealed, it would have been this much stronger moment to see that dramatic shift from heroic charismatic teacher to con man and murderer. That's the story we want to see. It's Doubt, but in a horror movie.
But I think I could forgive a lot of the George stuff if it wasn't for the really underdeveloped, almost shoehorned in ghost story. I don't know what is going on with the ghost story in this movie. The movie makes a lot of rules for ghosts in this movie. Apparently, good people can only see good ghosts. Bad people can only see bad ghosts. If this is true, why are the ghosts torturing everyone in the house? Catherine is genuinely scared by the ghost in the house, but she only sees the good ghost. But there is still the effects of the malevolent spirit? This could be a decent ghost story. I love me some haunted house stuff. But I don't really see the connection between George, the house, and the ghosts. The movie seems to want to have this Amityville Horror element or The Shining thing happen in this movie. But with those movies, the character had worked to distance themselves from a toxic past only to be corrupted by the house. Why is a malevolent spirit needed in Things Heard & Seen?
What I'm really dancing around and refusing to simplify is that there is no need for a ghost story here. There is the potential for a very interesting drama that needs to be cleaned up. But F. Murray Abraham's character really just complicates the whole thing by tying the story to mysticism and the supernatural. Fundamentally, this is a story of white male entitlement and the ghost story doesn't really serve as an effective metaphor. All it really does is try to make the movie seem complex when it is honestly quite overly simple. The bulimia is in the story not because it is a commentary on the expectations placed upon women, but just for a couple of throwaway lines. It's almost like the movie tried to make something brutally simple into this one-size-fits-all message about every problem a couple could have...plus ghosts. It's a real let down.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.