Written and directed by Braden R. Duemmler, What Lies Below is a mishmash of horror tropes that proves to be quite compelling because of solid acting, decent characters, and a strong sense of impending doom.
It stars Mena Suvari and Ema Horvath as mother and daughter, respectively. The latter plays Libby, a 16-year-old who has returned from summer camp to her family lake house to discover her mother has a new boyfriend. The young and attractive John, played by Trey Tucker.
John is friendly, aware that his appearance could throw off the mother and daughter dynamic and attempts to bond with Libby. Showing her his work as an aquatic geneticist, and explaining that his study of underwater parasites is to help creatures adapt to the planet’s changing environments. It’s honourable work, which just makes him all the more attractive to Libby, who is having some hormonal feelings towards him.
This isn’t helped by her mother’s inappropriate behaviour with him around her daughter, acting more like a lovesick teenager.
Libby tries to be happy for her mother though but starts to get bad vibes from John. Certain things he does, certain things he says, and certain ways he looks at her, make her uncomfortable. Then, one night, she sees him walk into the lake fully clothed towards a red light emitting from below the water.
Just what is going on here?
It’s a flawed horror movie that could have been better served by focusing on one thing only. Instead, it tries to combine thriller elements with sci-fi and monster-based horror and the end result is definitely confused. That being said, it’s a gripping watch that builds up strong anticipation for its payoff. One that doesn’t give all the answers most will have, but still satisfies because it is imaginative.
It also helps that the characters are likeable and interesting to watch, and the performances have heart. Even the occasional wooden line or reaction, doesn’t harm the overall enjoyment of the small cast.
Where What Lies Below really excels, is with its cinematography, sound, and visual tricks. This movie is wonderfully shot, set in an interesting location, has really ominous music, and does a number of interesting tricks to make you doubt your own eyes. Several times you’ll find yourself wondering if you did actually see what you thought you did. Likewise, the way the story plays out, you can’t help but wonder if both you as the viewer and Libby as the main character, are really experiencing something sinister at all.
While there’s nothing original here, and it probably should have focused on one specific thing, it’s still an enjoyable horror flick that will leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable.
What Lies Below (2020)
The Final Score - 7/10