Released: 29th April
Seen: 26th July
In 2016, author Elizabeth Brundage released All Things Cease To Appear, a book that was popular enough to receive a coveted positive book jacket quote by Stephen King so you know it had to be pretty good. It was certainly popular enough to get noticed by Netflix who began production of the film adaptation in 2019, an adaptation they would call Things Heard & Said… because I suppose calling it “Boring Romance And Spookies” would’ve been a little silly.
Things Heard & Said follows the Claire family, consisting of young mother Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), father George (James Norton) and their little daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger). They move into a new home in a quaint little country town and soon, because of some reasons, Catherine and George’s marriage begins to deteriorate. These reasons seem to be partially because he appears to be working too hard, partially because of her bulimia (that’s how it’s played in the film anyway).
Instead of doing normal things like go to counselling or actually talk to each other like grown adults, the two of them let the nothing problems they have fester and grow until both of them start having affairs and things just keep getting worse… oh, also there are ghosts, sorry I didn’t bring them up until now but they’re such an afterthought in the film that they must’ve slipped my mind.
Things Heard & Said advertises itself as some kind of horror-mystery but the only mystery is how anyone thought this was horrific. It gives off the vibe of a romantic drama that went through a few test screenings that got notes about how boring everything is so they added some spooky ghosts in reshoots in order to try and give Things Heard & Said some kind of an identity (that’s not what actually happened, it’s just a bad book adaptation, but that’s what it felt like). The identity it ends up getting is “Shitty Amityville Horror Knockoff” and it doesn’t even do that well.
The core relationship in Things Heard & Said is, to put it bluntly, boring. Not only do I not find anything about this couple remotely interesting but their relationship is so toxic I actually want to see them split up. There’s no real reason for me to think anything that goes on in the movie is unusual for them, he seems to be an abusive bastard from the second the movie begins and she just doesn’t have any character worth thinking about so how are the audience meant to care when things escalate?
You’re not able to care about their relationship because it’s so poorly explored, you don’t even really get a sense of what these two saw in each other to begin with let alone understand what might’ve pushed them to the point they are when we see them. They’re married because the script says so and therefore we’re meant to care about them and their relationship, but we can’t do that because we know nothing about it and thus when they start pulling away from each other it’s hard to feel anything other than indifferent.
Then there’s the spooky stuff, the ghosts and flickering lights and weird sounds that just do not belong in this film. They feel like an afterthought, thrown in to separate Things Heard & Said from the other bad romantic dramas out there. What they’re clearly trying to do is suggest that the house itself is causing these problems due to its dark history that will slowly reveal the evil nature of George… so they’re trying to do an Amityville, except Amityville was able to be unnerving and do more than have the lights malfunction and an extra stand on a staircase in bad zombie makeup to pretend to be a ghost. There’s never any point when it feels like the ghosts are going to do anything more than whisper nonsense words… oh, so scary.
Combine all this together and for about an hour and 45 minutes you have a slog of a film that culminates in a moment of pure batshit insanity that I would almost respect if it also wasn’t somehow boring. Seriously, the final few shots of Things Heard & Said are so weird and out of place that I would almost respect them if they weren’t also so dull that I had to inject caffeine right into my bloodstream in order to keep from passing out thanks to the boredom. How is a haunted house movie with multiple affairs and car accidents so boring? Things Heard & Said have found a way.
If I were to push myself and be a little nice I can admit that the actors are good, they’re delivering fairly decent performances that might actually be able to pull an emotional response out of me were Things Heard & Said even slightly better written. I also will admit that there are a lot of pretty shots, the camerawork is pretty good and there’s some clever little visual moments that really could work… you know, if the story being told was a story worth telling.
Things Heard & Said doesn’t need to be either heard or seen, it’s fine if you just leave it sitting in the back of the Netflix queue where it can gather digital dust and take up space that could be used for a decent test pattern or the annual burning Christmas log video. I don’t even think I can bring myself to hating this film, hate and dislike implies some form of an emotional reaction and there’s just no way on earth that I can muster up any real emotional reaction to this series of images that constitutes a movie.