What Lies Beneath (2000)Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, sensuality and brief language.
Starring Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Remar, Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton.
Photo ©Dreamworks SKG. All rights reserved.
Bring Roller Coaster Mentality
"Step in to the funhouse." I think that's the best way to direct someone to see What Lies Beneath. It's skillfully directed so that you feel yourself looking over your shoulder at every turn of the plot. After it's finished, though, you can come out smiling and laughing about how you fell for so many of the scares in the first place. And the scares aren't nightmare-inducing in the least. So walk in to the movie, and figure it's popcorn time.
The movie is about a woman named Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has just moved in to a huge house in front of a lake with her doctor husband Norman (Harrison Ford) and their daughter. The daughter goes off to college, and Norman is often at work working long hours, so pretty soon it's just Claire all by her lonesome in a gigantic and lonely house. In an atmosphere perfect for breeding paranoia, complete with what could be conceived as minorly paranormal events, Claire soon suspects that her neighbor has committed some sort of foul play. Is the victim now a ghost, trying to contact Claire? Her friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) tries humorously to allay her fears, and her husband often assures her nothing is wrong, but Claire continues to be suspicious and be haunted by the presence of a "ghost." She soon starts to do some investigating for herself, and she finds out some interesting things...
There are really two main things you get out of this movie. First of all, it's a very nicely-crafted thriller. The director (Robert Zemeckis) was said to have been paying homage to Hitchcock, and so he goes through most of the conventions to set up scares and things that make you jump. I think he did a good job there. You know how it goes: it's quiet, dark, and you're alone, and there's conventional scary-build-up music (by Alan Silvestri). Plus, most of it takes place in a big, lonely, quiet house, which really helps set up the atmosphere.
Second, it's not a very deep movie. Ultimately, the story is quite straightforward. The scares are effective, but also effectively empty. In other words, you didn't jump because the ghost lunged at you through the door, you jumped because it was actually the dog coming through the door. Also, the ending is probably not the best thing and left a bit of something to be desired. It wasn't that it was a bad ending, it was just, well... kind of hokey.
The movie has its moments, including one scene guaranteed to make you react because it just comes out of absolutely nowhere. That was the best scene in the movie to me. You'll know it when you see it.
So, overall, continuing the carnival metaphors, I would say go into this movie with a "roller coaster mentality." Get on for the ride, scream a bit, have fun, get off the ride, go home, and don't give it a second thought. I wouldn't necessary say it was a solidly good movie, just a fairly good one. It's not as substantive as I personally would have liked it to be, but it was fun. If you watch it just for the suspenseful set-ups alone, you would easily enjoy it.
©Jeffrey Chen, July 2000