Actress Amanda Seyfried (or Amanda Seafood as my former podcast co-host calls her) seems to have a thing for movies in which she plays a character who moves to a haunted country home with her husband and daughter of late between last year’s “You Should Have Left” and “Things Heard & Seen” (now streaming on Netflix).
“TH&S” has been referred to as a horror film, but I’d call it more of a supernatural thriller. Either way, it’s an improvement over writer/director David Koepp’s “YSHL” – a movie I also enjoyed well enough. What’s so commendable about “American Splendor” filmmaking duo (and married couple) Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of Elizabeth Brundage’s novel “All Things Cease to Appear” is that not only is it an artfully-made genre picture, but it explores just how terrifying marriage can be. Art as therapy, folks!
It’s 1980. New York City artists and academicians Catherine (Seyfried) and George Claire (James Norton) move with their daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) to the Hudson Valley in order for George to take a teaching position at the fictional Saginaw College.
Their new home is situated on an old dairy farm. Catherine and George hire two of the house’s former occupants, youthful brothers Eddie (Alex Neustaedter) and Cole Vayle (Jack Gore), to be their groundskeepers.
George adjusts well to the move and his new vocation – he’s popular with his students, has drawn the attention of Eddie’s attractive gal pal Willis (Natalia Dyer) and made fast friends with his mentor Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham). The relocation hasn’t sat so swimmingly with Catherine and Franny – who hear and see apparitions that George cannot … though all parties can smell some sort of phantom car exhaust as they’re trying to sleep. George diminishes Catherine’s curiosity and fears – luckily she receives support from Floyd and Justine (Rhea Seehorn), another educator at Saginaw.
Springer Berman and Pulcini direct their game cast – which is further filled out by Karen Allen as Catherine and George’s realtor and Michael O’Keefe (Noonan!) as her husband and the local police presence – to some truly accomplished performances. I’m a fan of Seyfried’s – she’s the main character, the biggest name in the cast and turns in reliably good work, but the performance I responded to most was that of Norton. I’m not especially familiar with Norton having only seen him in 2017’s “Flatliners” remake and Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of “Little Women,” but the dude undeniably has a presence about him. Norton’s George is like a Russian nesting doll of crappiness or an onion that’s revealed to be rotten with each layer peeled. His exaggerated handsomeness only serves to exacerbate the character’s terribleness.
“TH&S” is smarter and classier than your average genre exercise. It embraces its collegial atmosphere and is chockablock with art and literary references while simultaneously being a deconstruction of gaslighting and toxic masculinity. It’s not especially violent save for a scene late in the film and mostly earns its TV-MA rating via language, sexual content and drug use. There’s an East Coast upper crustiness to the proceedings that’s attractive and yet keeps the audience at a distance. It’d make great fodder for a Friday night date over pizza and a bottle of wine.