'The Things We’ve Seen' Is Unsettling & Predictable
Mistakes are what make us human. No matter how old we might be —or what paths we’ve taken in life, we’ve fallen, grumbled, and being flat out wrong at one time or another. Luckily, for many of us, we’re able to walk away unscathed —leaving our mistakes in the past where they belong. We are able to move forward learning from bad choices, while embarking on new journeys and experiences. Unfortunately, not everyone has the chance for reinvention.
In his dark drama, The Things We’ve Seen, filmmaker Tre Manchester turns his lens on a small Indiana town. The film centers around a close-knit community full of working-class people. However, things begin to fracture and crack when the town’s mill burns to the ground, leaving two-thirds of the workforce unemployed --imploding the already precarious local economy. Economic devastation is crippling in and of itself, but when the sheriff (John D. Carver) and the townspeople decide they need a scapegoat for the fire, an entire family’s wellbeing is put on the chopping block.
There is no levity in Manchester’s work which is why the tone of The Things We’ve Seen is so convincing. The film opens with a standoff between the police and mill workers as the fire blazes in the background. The man at the center of the chaos is Rayford Boem (Randy Ryan) —a former musician with a notorious reputation. Whether he has anything to do with the blaze or not, Rayford is blamed for the fire which leaves his entire family vulnerable.
The Things We’ve Seen isn’t really about Rayford and his failings as a father, husband, and man. Instead, the film examines how his actions affect his loved ones and leave them helpless to the abuse and judgments of others. When Rayford vanishes after the fire and standoff, his wife, Ivory Joy (Shani Salyers Stiles) and teen sons, Reagan (Jarrett Maier) and Neely (Noah McCarty-Slaughter) are left defenseless and exposed.
With a dark tone and themes, what’s most interesting here are Manchester’s examinations of broken familial bonds. Despite the town's opinions of Rayford, the eldest Boem son Reagen—honors his father at the expense of his relationship with his loving and ever-present mother. The issue here is that though Rayford is positioned as the villain of sorts —he lacks a complexity that makes antagonists interesting in films. Instead —his troublesome and selfish actions lead everyone around him on a path of destruction that never really seems to engulf Ray himself.
On the surface —The Things We’ve Seen certainly has some compelling themes. Unfortunately, they are never truly explored. As Reagen clings to the idolized version of Rayford, his mother and younger brother are left to suffer in the wake of his anger and the Boem patriarch’s abandonment. In fact, it the most innocent in the film bear the most burdens.
Since the movie lacks a ton of dialogue it needed a lot more twists and turns, and at times, more poignant acting to keep the audience invested in the narrative. With so little story, The Things We’ve Seen meanders towards a predictable end with very little resolution or character development. It would have been more intriguing to dig a bit deeper not just into Rayford and Reagan’s relationship —but into Ray’s past as a whole. At one point Rayford says, "Sheriff, if I was to put out half the abuse that was put into me, I would’ve burnt this town down a long time ago.” Unfortunately, the audience is never given the opportunity to learn exactly what that means.
The Things We’ve Seen is now available on iTunes, GooglePlay and Amazon as well as on DVD and Cable VOD
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide