What Lies Beneath is a horror-thriller film that was directed by Robert Zemeckis, releasing in the year 2000. It stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer in the leading roles in what would become Ford’s one and only horror film.
Claire Spencer (Pfeiffer) and her husband Norman (Ford), an accomplished scientist and professor, live a quiet life at their lakeside home. Their relationship is strained, particularly after Claire’s daughter leaves for college. Claire notices their new neighbours, Mary and Warren Feur, have a volatile relationship and, after Mary is unseen for several days, suspects Warren may have killed her.
Claire believes she sees a woman’s body in the lake, and senses an unseen presence in the house. A framed article about Norman falls off his desk and shatters, leading Claire to discover an odd key inside a vent. She finds her bathtub mysteriously filled, and sees another woman’s reflection in the water. Confiding in a psychiatrist, Claire and her mystic friend, Jody, hold a failed séance. She finds the bathtub filled again with the message, “You know,” written on the steamy mirror, while her computer types the initials “MEF”.
Convinced she is haunted by Mary’s ghost, Claire confronts Warren, but Mary is alive and well, explaining that she went to stay with her mother. On the back of Norman’s article, Claire finds a story about a missing woman named Madison Elizabeth Frank — “MEF”. She tracks down Madison’s mother and visits her daughter’s bedroom, where she steals a lock of Madison’s hair and notices a photo of her wearing an unusual necklace.
Performing a ritual from a book, Claire attempts to conjure Madison. Seemingly possessed by her spirit, she aggressively seduces Norman. Becoming herself again, Claire recalls a repressed memory about Norman’s affair with a student, Madison, which he admits happened during a rough patch in their marriage. Claire leaves to spend the night with Jody, who reveals that a year earlier, she saw Norman arguing with a woman at a café…….
Considering that What Lies Beneath is not far off turning 25, I was somewhat expecting it to have not aged particularly well. However, while it’s flawed in a number of ways, the shortcomings are not all age related. Let’s start with the positives. Firstly, the cinematography throughout is fantastic. There are lots of well-timed sweeping shots, interesting angles and some more experimental ones that I enjoyed. Of course, with Zemeckis behind the lens this doesn’t come as a great shock.
Secondly, the mystery is very intriguing throughout but this is somewhat dependent on whether or not you already know the answers. You could make the same argument for any film with a twist conclusion though. Anyway, it isn’t hard to get hooked into things and start creating wild theories in your own mind.
Thirdly, when you cast such well-established actors you’d hope for some quality performances. Thankfully, that’s just what you get here. Pfeiffer in particular deals with an array of emotions excellently. Although, her screaming did start to grate as things wore on. Her character Claire is hampered by many of the tropes of horror films from this time period. I could go into great detail on her many mistakes but let’s just say, she makes a lot of them. Additionally, her backstory is told poorly and makes very little sense.
Finally, this could just be a me thing but I’ve never been a big fan of the whole “good ghost” idea. This is especially true in this type of scenario because it raises so many questions about the capabilities of the ghost. Why send such cryptic messages? They can literally write things on mirrors, just spell it out you silly Ghost. To be honest, the supernatural moments in the film actually cheapen it because they’re quite cheesy.
Now, let’s get to that big reveal. It does work well enough in the context of the story in What Lies Beneath. However, I do believe that it’s let down in a number of ways. The first one being Harrison Ford’s performance as Norman. There’s a scene fairly early on in which he shows a very sinister side to him that almost completely gives it away.
Also, he’s generally quite cold throughout. I did like that the film attempts to provide different obstacles before the reveal like Norman “attempting suicide”. Still, I cannot say now that I completely understand Norman as a character. His actions are just confusing to me. He’s aware of what he has done and yet he goes to work every day knowing that Claire is fully investigating the whole thing. He never really goes fully psychopath until the final moments which left me unsure about how I should feel about him.
Due to some of the reasons mentioned above, the body count is disappointingly low. There are well timed moments of tension though, including the memorable “bathtub” scene.
Overall, What Lies Beneath has quite a lot of problems. There are even more that I haven’t fully gone into but at the end of the day I do believe that it’s a pretty solid film. Without knowing the answers, it’s worth at least a singular watch.
What Lies Beneath
The Final Score - 6/10