STREAMING REVIEW: Things that go bump in the night and a tentacled friend

Published April 29, 2021, 3:00 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Here are reviews of a new psychological thriller on Netflix which drops on April 29, a fantasy series on HBO, and this year’s Oscars Best Documentary Feature. Happy viewing!

Things Heard & Seen (Netflix) – For those who’ve watched such films as Rosemary’s Baby or Don’t Look Now, you’ll appreciate how Old School Horror was more about psychological terror and an atmosphere of dread and unease, rather than being about jump scares or monstrosities. It’s with an appreciation of that sensibility that you’ll approach the new Netflix horror release Things Heard & Seen. It stars Amanda Seyfried and James Norton as a young couple, with child, who move from New York City to an upstate suburban hamlet in order for the husband to take up a new teaching job at a local college. And it’s the house they occupy that carries a lot of sordid history and proceeds to reach out to Amanda’s character.

As such, this is more a supernatural, psychological thriller than an outright Horror film of today. There’s foreshadowing, there’s drama and subtle scares, and there’s always the underlying feeling that something disastrous will happen. There are themes of American Art, of academia, of how the past still inhabit the present day; and without setting off any spoilers, how you might not know the person who’s supposed to be the closest to you or you share a life with. This drops on April 29th, and I’m actually curious to see whether, without the requisite jump scares, it’ll be a popular choice of fans of the genre.

The Nevers (HBO Max Original) – Here’s a new period drama-fantasy series that arrives with the name of Joss Whedon attached to it. If you recall, Whedon directed the first Avengers films and was the one called on when Zack Snyder dropped out of Justice League. And in fact, Whedon has strong Television roots with such modern classics as Buffy, the Vampire-Slayer. So yes, there was a lot of anticipation over this new series before a lot of negative publicity came down the line and other directors took over the day-to-day of this series. The premise is very woman-centric, and is set in Victorian London, having to do with a band of women with special powers, the ‘Touched’.

The plotting of this series goes all over the place, picking up new characters and situations with abandon. This helps create a veneer of so much going on, but I wondered at times if it also leads to confusion, and the audience not really investing in our main characters. There is a lot of energy and a formidable cast assembled, all ready to give their all in their portrayals. The people I’ve spoken to all seemed to enjoy the series, but I personally found it was treading on tropes that have become over-familiar over the last decade, and that it was merely the setting of Victorian London that was giving this series an overlay of being different.. but really not.

My Octopus Teacher (Netflix) – This is an unassuming Nature Documentary feature that for some reason really sparked an interest among viewers, and was strong enough to take home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. My guess is that it satisfies that dream of communing with Nature in new and unusual ways – how often do we see a human being bonding with an octopus, and if the narration is to be believed, the bonding is mutual. And perhaps there is that undercurrent (sea pun intended) that if a human can set out to forge a friendship with an octopus and succeed, why can’t we human beings make a better job of all getting along. Mind you, I truly loved the underwater photography, and the painstaking manner in which the footage was assembled over a year of bonding and ten years of editing.

Yes, you read right, the octopus life span is only a year and a half, and the footage we watch transpired in 2011. Me, I found some of the narration and bonding romanticized – like if I was burned out and commented about how weak a relationship I had with my young son, would diving for hours on end and following an octopus be really helpful? I know there’s footage about how the son also took to diving, but somehow, that reeked of tokenism and belated justification. Perhaps I’m just too cynical, but I’d have preferred if we stuck to a narration of befriending the octopus and how painstaking a process it was and how the octopus seemed to respond, rather than over-dramatize the process. But that’s just me, and I’m obviously in a minority, so just pass me the Grilled Ensalada de Pulpo.