Running time: 121 minutes. Rated TV-MA. On Netflix.
Hollywood would have us believe upstate New York is hell on earth.
In “A Quiet Place,” speaking out loud in Pawling gets you slaughtered by aliens. In “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” an innocent visit to a boyfriend’s parents’ Fishkill farm traps you in a psychological nightmare. And now, in “Things Heard & Seen,” a Manhattan family’s new Millerton house is haunted by an ax murderer.
Jeez. No wonder everybody’s moving to Florida.
It’s plainly clear, however, that north of New York City makes for many great movies. And while “Things Heard & Seen” is not in the same league as “A Quiet Place” and Charlie Kaufman’s oddball Netflix thriller, it has a spooky atmosphere and an appealingly slow boil that will liven up a Saturday night.
One refreshing change-up is that Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) and George (James Norton) are not in the happiest marriage ever when they decide to leave the city, so he can take a teaching job in the Hudson Valley. Catherine feels inadequate and suffers from an eating disorder, and George is obviously a womanizing pig.
They hightail it with their young daughter to a crumbling farmhouse that most sane people would be afraid to buy lettuce from, and settle in. Almost immediately, Catherine begins to feel a presence — frightening, but not altogether unpleasant — in her fixer-upper dwelling. She learns from the town historical society that the man who built it drugged his wife and brutally killed her with an ax decades earlier.
We find out it has become something of a pattern over the years. And then the ghosts start making themselves known.
Meanwhile, George the turd begins sleeping with a student and resenting his wife while he lies about going on long runs. The viewer thus contemplates whether his hurtful actions are entirely his own, or if his bad behavior is encouraged by the home’s ghoulish inhabitants. It’s around this bit that the film flatlines for a stretch before waking up toward the end.
As we saw in “Mank,” Seyfried gets better and better as she matures out of her “Mamma Mia!” phase. She’s more dangerous than usual here — focused, unpredictable. While it would be nice to see her be more varied in this film, that’s mostly the fault of the material — from co-directors and co-writers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini — which offers no moments of levity to break up the persistent dread.
Seyfried also has some emotionally masochistic chemistry with Norton, who looks like the sort of guy you marry because he’s smart, nice and reliable and then, as it would happen, is actually smart, smart and smart.
“Things Heard & Seen” is an adequate haunted-house film, to be sure, but it will certainly give you pause about that three-bedroom, three-bath listing in Kingston.