It was 18 years prior — how time passes quickly in the independent world — that the wedded coordinating group of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman brought us “American Magnificence,” a painfully compassionate, scabrously entertaining, supernaturally energetic and imaginative lower-profundities parody dependent on the life and work of the lumpen verité comic-book diarist Harvey Pekar, played by Paul Giamatti in an exhibition of fractious splendor. The film was a venturesome victory (it piled up grants, including a Public Culture of Film Pundits gesture for best film of the year), and going ahead one needed, and anticipated, more extraordinary things from Pulcini and Berman. In the years since, nonetheless, nothing they’ve done (“The Caretaker Journals,” “10,000 Holy people”) has come extremely close to satisfying the guarantee of that milestone film. Interestingly, their sincere compassion and specialty is consistently in plain view; they have a nature for pace, for camera points, for how to search out three measurements in places where an excessive number of producers settle for two. However lightning has never struck again for them.
I’m continually trusting it will, and their most recent film, “Things Heard and Seen” (it drops April 29 on Netflix), offers their typical bother of look-we’re-straightforward business movie producers attempting to-reach skyward. It’s a phantom story, set in 1980, featuring Amanda Seyfried and James Norton as Catherine and George Claire, a couple with a youthful little girl who move from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where George has quite recently gotten his Ph.D in workmanship history from Columbia, to the Hudson Valley, where he handles a task as an educator at Saginaw, a little private school recognized for the most part by its rustic setting.
To take the action, Catherine is compelled to require her own vocation as a workmanship restorer to be postponed, which she does with a peaceful lament that turns out to be more substantial when they visit the old farmhouse George has his heart set on purchasing. It’s a project with incredible bones, and Catherine is only the one to revamp it (which she does, with incomparable taste). In any case, we would already be able to see that she’s not getting off on his store fantasy about being a scholarly star in the upstate open country. For George, it’s in every case about him.
The most fascinating part of “Things Heard and Seen” are its scenes from a marriage that is self-destructing in lethargic movement. Seyfried realizes how to cover Catherine’s hatred with the goal that it stews simply under the outside of experiences, and Norton (from “The Nevers”), who resembles a perfect ten form of Michael Murphy, realizes how to play a spouse who’s a narcissist and possibly more terrible. He does it by attempting to pull in the gaslighting side of himself, which just uncovered it more.
At that point there’s the phantom stuff. In the room of four-year-old Franny (Ana Sophia Heger), a recliner moves without help from anyone else. An unpleasant nightlight pulsates a lot with a David Lynchian glitchy electric buzz. Somewhere else, a rotating brush turns on without help from anyone else, and a secretive light-beat drifts through the kitchen. There’s no uncertainty about whether we’re seeing something powerful. However, since these themes, while astutely executed, are sufficiently standard to be found in a schlock phantom thrill ride, we expect that the producers have something more intricate up their sleeves. For quite a few years at this point, it’s been the special case instead of the standard to see a phantom story that is a real show — like “What Lies Underneath,” “The Intuition,” or “Inherited.” For some time, one watches “Things Heard and Seen” believing there’s an apparition of a possibility it may join their company.It doesn’t. Seyfried and Norton make a clear showing of instituting the irritable science of a toxifying marriage, and there are fun exhibitions by the two entertainers playing George’s scholastic associates. F. Murray Abraham, who is 81 however so fresh and nimble he appears to be 15 years more youthful, plays the craftsmanship history office director, an elegant chap with a vile obsession with Emanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth century Swedish scholar who turned his vision of the great beyond out of a spiritualist fellowship he professed to have with holy messengers and devils. When Abraham gives the signal “séance,” we realize we’re he’s coming from.