Things Heard & Seen

This movie feels like a strike out when all the bases are loaded. You want so badly for a success, but it doesn’t happen. Every element in this movie is poised for a gland slam, but it never happens.

This latest Netflix release follows Amanda Seyfried and James Norton as Catherine and George a seemingly happy couple who move their slofie year old daughter out of the city and into a remote country house when George gets a teaching position at an arts college. Things seem idyllic until Catherine starts sensing a ghostly presence in the house.

We’re going to start with the good because there’s a lot of it. On first base we have a classic set up with some solid suspenseful sequences. It’s hard to go wrong with a haunted house tale. They have a good looking ghostly presence and a great seance sequence that got my hairs standing on end. These elements are approached in a slightly off kilter way that makes them less obvious and therefore more intriguing.

On proverbial second is a really strong look. I like the way the film is shot. There are really beautiful compositions in this movie. There’s a nice use of natural light that creates some beautiful shots.

Finally they have an incredible cast. Amanda Seyfried has grown into an incredible actress since her Mamma Mia days. James Norton has mastered the art of smarmy charm bellying something deeper and possibly sinister. F Murray Abraham is here! I love F Murray Abraham. He does a great job here. He has a fantastic scene where he comforts Seyfried’s character regarding her ghost. He just teens with compassionate energy. He’s excellent here.

So where does it go wrong? Well strike one is the direction. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini share writing and directing credits. They get good performances, they create an intriguing tone, but they fail to create consistent tension or suspense. The movie doesn’t build in its conflict. Individual scenes have tension, but whenever the scene ends the tension also ends. While the tone is consistent, the narrative engagement is not.

Strike two is the ending. Nothing about the ending worked for me. There was inadequate buildup. The scenes are shot in a muddled fashion. The narrative switches perspectives and feels jarring. The thematic implications are disappointing. I can enjoy a bad movie if it has a great ending. I can’t enjoy a good movie if it has a bad ending.

The third strike is the biggest issue. It’s a bad script. Berman and Pulcini wrote a disjointed script that never fully commits to any of its ideas. The ghost story is set up then ignored in favor of an infidelity plot line that never feels believable. There’s a haunting as metaphor for marital strife theme that is never really explored and mostly abandoned. It is implied that Catherine has suffered from eating disorders in the past. Everyone is concerned about her eating. This is brought up many times, but there is no payoff. There’s a throwaway line about people think she’s seeing things because she’s malnourished, but that’s it. George has a series of scenes in which his secrets are revealed, and it feels like they threw in everything but the kitchen to make him look like a monster. Revelations like this need some buildup or some kind of foreshadowing. There are none to be found in this script.

All this amounts to all the potential and none of the payoff. Every good element is left stranded while the bad elements take over.

It’s not my cup of tea. I was originally going to give it a C, but I give it a B- for how good each of the actors are. They deserve better.

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