When George Claire gets a cushy job as a college professor in upstate New York, he and his wife, Catherine, pack up and leave the big city—and she leaves her dream job as an art restorer behind.
Catherine’s happy to do it, since George has allegedly made sacrifices for her in the past. But after moving into their new place, Catherine and their daughter, Franny, start noticing strange things about their house.
Lights flicker and flash. The smell of gasoline fills the master bedroom. And a strange, glowing apparition follows Catherine throughout the house.
George insists every phenomenon has an explanation. The house’s old wiring is acting up, he says. The master bedroom is located above the garage, and Catherine is probably just hallucinating since she hasn’t been eating (she has bulimia).
But Catherine isn’t convinced. She believes the house is haunted. And she’s determined to figure out what the spirits dwelling there want.
Floyd, George’s boss, is kind to the Claires. Even when Floyd discovers that George has acted deceptively, he attempts to be a friend. He says George will recover from the setback and reminds him to be good.
Justine, one of George’s colleagues, befriends Catherine. Justine introduces her to likeminded women and helps her become part of their community. Justine and others exhibit integrity when they report their suspicions about George and his lies to the sheriff.
Catherine is kind to Eddy and Cole Lucks, the children of the house’s previous owners. She allows them to act as groundskeepers, and Cole babysits Franny often.
Catherine and George are both good parents to their daughter, even though they have different parenting styles.
Locals tell Catherine that most of the houses in that area are haunted—a good thing, they insist. So long as the inhabitants are good people, the spirits will act as guardian angels and shepherd the current residents into the afterlife when their time comes.
However, after hosting a séance, Floyd and the others tell Catherine that her house hosts two spirits—one good and one evil. An evil spirit only has power if someone within the house allows it. That revelation is a catalyst that causes Catherine to question her husband’s true morals.
Lights flicker, and one bulb explodes in the presence of ghosts. This phenomenon is exaggerated when George and Catherine argue. We see the ghosts of Ella and Calvin Vayle, the previous owners of the house, and they speak to Catherine and George. Catherine smells gasoline in her bedroom on some nights and later discovers that it is related to the Vayles’ deaths. Objects move on their own. During a séance, several candles blow out, and a tablecloth is seemingly possessed by a spirit.
Catherine pulls a living, monster-like organism out of her drain—though this turns out to be a dream. A family death record lists someone as being “damned” rather than dead. As a man is about to die, we see the ghosts of his wife and another woman, and he sees the gates of hell.
We hear that the original owner of the house was a minister. Catherine claims to be Catholic. A woman asks her daughter about church and whether or not she’s been praying. Someone references the “Good Book” stating that the truth will set you free. A woman says that weaving is “spiritual” to her and that “Mother Nature” decided she wouldn’t have children.
Catherine finds George masturbating in the shower (we see his back). Later, we see his exposed backside after he strips out of wet clothing. We also see Catherine’s exposed shoulders when she weighs herself after a shower. We see Catherine’s breasts through her shirt at times, and a boy notices on one occasion. A young man removes his shirt while working.
George has an affair with a college student (we see her lying on a bed in a shirt and underwear). Catherine also has an affair with a much younger man. (She kisses and straddles him, and we see her unbuckle his pants).
Catherine and George make out in bed (he is shirtless, she is wearing a sheer nightgown). We hear some suggestive talk.
We hear about a gay man who died. Someone suspects that Justine is gay (though she isn’t).
A man kills a woman with an ax, chopping her repeatedly in the stomach. We see lots of resulting blood splatter and later see her corpse lying in a pool of blood. He also drowns another man (offscreen) and runs another woman off the road, causing her to crash her car and fall into a coma.
We learn that Calvin Vayle slipped his wife and two sons a sedative one night before shooting all of their cows. He then turned on the car in the garage and closed all the doors and windows of the house. He and his wife died from this, but their sons survived.
We hear that the wife of the house’s original owner disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and it is believed she was murdered by her husband. A carrion bird, seemingly possessed by the husband, smashes through a window, frightening Catherine.
George grabs Catherine roughly several times, shoving her around. She fights back once, scratching him before getting thrown down a hill. He apologizes, but she has a cut on her face. He later grabs Justine by her wrists and refuses to let go, even when she says he is hurting her.
We hear about an artist who killed someone over a game of tennis. We learn that a man beat his son. A guy aggressively gropes his wife. When a woman tries to call for help, her husband smashes their home phone to bits. We hear about a hostage situation on the radio.
We hear the f-word about 25 times and the s-word twice. We also hear five uses each of “d–ned” and “h—.” (“D–ned” is also written out twice.) God’s name is misused more than 30 times (three times paired with “d–n”), and someone says “godforsaken.” Christ’s name is also abused five times.
People drink wine throughout the movie. (And in one scene, an underage boy pours drinks for adults at a party.) Someone makes cocktails. Several people smoke marijuana, and one person says he grows it. People smoke cigarettes. George says that Catherine shouldn’t drink so much, since she doesn’t eat enough food.
We hear that a man drugged his family with sedatives in order to kill them in their sleep. George gets angry that Catherine won’t fill their daughter’s sleep-aid prescription (she argues that it’s an unnecessary medication). That prescription plays an important role later in the film.
George takes credit for artwork he didn’t paint himself. His dad crudely says that he wasn’t sure if the cousin’s parents were more upset that their son drowned or that he was gay.
Floyd learns that George forged the recommendation letter that got him a job at the college. George tells Floyd that his advisor refused to write the letter because George reported him for sexual misconduct. But Floyd says he won’t lie for George, stating that he’ll report the forgery to HR and likely be let go.
We see Catherine vomiting several times (once after shoving her fingers down her throat) and learn she suffers from bulimia. There’s discussion about her recovery process, too. Catherine becomes offended when her mom and husband suggest that she is hallucinating from the lack of food.
George attempts to undermine the friendship between Catherine and Justine, suggesting that Justine is a “head case,” a lesbian and purposely stirring up drama to pull them apart. Catherine defends Justine, pointing out that the issues she and George are experiencing have nothing to do with Justine and everything to do with his lies and secrets. He states he is only lying to spare her unpleasantness, and she retorts that she can handle it since she endured childbirth.
George mocks Catherine for her belief in ghosts. And throughout the movie, audiences are exposed to jump scares from these beings.
George gets angry when Catherine allows Franny to sleep with them after getting scared. Catherine also gets angry when George tries to alienate her from their neighbors and new friends she’s made, since she gave up her career to move with him. A man lies, saying that his parents died in a car crash. George purposely scares Catherine by driving too fast. Someone bribes a dock worker.
Things Heard & Seen opens with a quote from Swedish scientist, mystic, philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg: “This I can declare … things that are in heaven are more real than things that are in the world.”
That quote sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Swedenborg was a proponent of a new doctrine of Christianity known as the “New Church,” which emphasizes the necessity of goodness as a prerequisite for salvation. But as it applies to the film, Swedenborgianism suggests that the lines between heaven, hell and Earth are thin, and that those dwelling in the spiritual realm have direct counterparts on Earth whom they can influence.
Thus, we have Catherine, a “good” person being protected by Ella (a similarly “good” person who was abused by her husband in life, not unlike Catherine is now). But we also have George, an “evil” person being controlled by Calvin, who murdered his wife and beat his children.
The whole film is focused on finding justice not only for Catherine but for the other women who died at the hands of their husbands while living in the Claire’s house. But the justice the film suggests doesn’t come in the form of earthly judgment, but rather in the form of eternal damnation.
If all of that sounds like a spiritual whirlwind, it is. The twisted theology alone here gives families plenty of reasons to avoid being swept up in this story. But this movie also embraces a plethora of profanity, sexual misconduct (both main characters have affairs with much younger counterparts) and sheer violence.
In other words, things better left unseen and unheard.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.