The film opens with a quote from 18th-century Swedish theologian Emmanuel Swedenborg, whose most famous work was a book on the afterlife, appropriately titled Heaven and Hell.
Unsurprisingly, this goes on to have a major significance for the events of the film, particularly in its climactic final moments – which may have left viewers with one or two questions.
Read on for everything you need to know about the ending of Things Heard and Seen.
Was the house haunted?
As soon as George (James Norton) and Catherine (Amanda Seyfried) move into their new house upstate, it is pretty clear that not everything is as it seems. There’s creepy light-up figures, appliances that turn on by themselves, suspicious and unexplained smells, and most significantly several sightings of a female ghost. Just about every haunted house cliché you can think of, in other words.
But while it is clear that the house is haunted, the reality is actually a little more complicated. When George is busy spending time at the university and gallivanting with younger woman, Catherine spends most of her time digging into the house’s history and finds that several of its former residents had died in tragic circumstances.
Then, at a party thrown by the couple, Catherine is told about the fate that befell the house’s most recent owners – the Vayle’s, whose children now serve as groundskeepers. It turns out that the father of the family had killed his wife Ella in a murder-suicide, and it is her spirit that continues to roam the house.
This becomes all the more clear when Catherine finds her life in danger at the very end, and she begins to hear Ella’s voice speaking to her. She finds that rather than threatening her, Ella is actually warning and reassuring her, telling her that she can stop her from feeling pain.
“I would give my life again, for the power to stop this,” she says. “Just know Catherine, as she were there for me, I am here for you.”
The ‘she’ Ella is referring to is Ms Smit, another female resident who was killed by her husband.
Did George kill Catherine?
Over the course of the two-hour film, George goes on quite a journey: from untrustworthy husband to serial adulterer to fraudster to mass murderer.
His first murder comes when art history department chairman Floyd (F Murray Abraham) realises that George’s job at Saginaw only came about because he had faked a recommendation letter. Floyd cooly lets George know that he will have to go before a committee and presumably lose his job, and rather than face this embarrassment, George pushes Floyd off his boat and lets him drown in the waters.
He then attempts to continue his spree when he discovers that his colleague Justine (Rhea Seehorn) is also on to him, violently running her off the road with his car. Although she falls into a coma and is hospitalised, she does not die – more on that later.
Finally, Catherine reveals that she has become aware of how much of a monster her husband has always been, telling him that she knows he was responsible for Floyd’s death and Justine’s accident, and making it clear she plans to flee the house with their daughter Frannie.
Before she can do so, though – and despite those encouraging words from the aforementioned spirit – Catherine is brutally murdered by George, who takes an axe to her while she lies in her bed.
Did George die?
After carrying out his final murder, George sets about covering his tracks, ensuring that he has an alibi and hiring an expensive Manhattan lawyer to argue his innocence.
His plan is scuppered when Justine wakes up from her coma – seemingly also hearing Ella’s voice and seeing visions of Catherine’s murder. Just as she regains consciousness, the voices of Ella and Catherine can be heard together telling her, “Goodness always triumphs, if not in this world then the next. Justine, it’s time.”
After waking up, Justine sends a message to George implying that she has evidence to prove his guilt. Clearly scared, George then takes a boat out to sea, and winds up caught in a violent storm, while the voices of Ella and Catherine are heard whispering, “The Gates of Hell are only visible to those about to come into it.”
The whispering continues, “He who is evil, is also in the punishment of evil” and then the word “damned” is said repeatedly until George loses control of the boat.
The voices then continue, “The world of spirits is not Heaven or Hell, we stand between the two.” The pictures on screen then come to mimic the artwork on the front cover of Emmanuel Swedenborg’s book on the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, which has been frequently referenced throughout the film.
At the very end, we see a framed version of this picture, before the camera shifts to a painting of Reverend Smit – the first known murderer to live in the house – and his wife, who he killed.
At the same time, we hear the voices saying, “We have lost our children. Because of you, we are joined in spirit. Because of you, our powers grow from tiny drops into an endless sea.”
The implication is that George has died and will be sent straight to Hell to live in eternal damnation, whereas Catherine, Ella and the other murdered residents of the house will live on in the world of the spirits.
What was the significance of the ring?
The very last thing we see on screen is a red ring worn by Ms Smit – a ring we have frequently seen worn throughout the film’s runtime. Originally Catherine found it in the house, before she learned that it had previously belonged to Ella. This final shot shows that the ring is symbolically representing the connection between the women who have lived in the house.