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Movie Review

What Lies Beneath

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror/violence, sensuality and brief language

Reviewed by: Halyna Barannik
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teens to Adults
Genre:
Horror Mystery Thriller Drama
Length:
2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
July 21, 2000 (wide)
Copyright, Dreamworks SKG click photos to ENLARGE
Relevant Issues
Harrison Ford in “What Lies Beneath”
Featuring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amber Valletta, James Remar, Katharine Towne
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: DreamWorks Pictures
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
ImageMovers
Steve Starkey
Jack Rapke
Robert Zemeckis
etc.
Distributor: Dreamworks SKG

“He was the perfect husband until his one mistake followed them home.”

It’s not a good sign for a mystery/thriller when the audience sighs and laughs during its showing. The audience I participated in did just that during “What Lies Beneath”. Perhaps it was because elements were present which were obviously derived from other thrillers such as “Rear Window” and “Cape Fear”. Maybe. But for a scaredy-cat like me who tends to avoid thrillers, this mildly scary movie had just the right amount of terror to evoke heavy suspense.

“What Lies Beneath” focuses on Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer), a stay-at-home mom whose daughter Caitlin (Katherine Towne) has just left for college. She is left at home to share a big house with her university scientist husband, Norman (Harrison Ford).

The movie uses music very elaborately, maybe too much so, to create the feeling of suspense as Claire gets frightened by the slightest unexpected sound—a door opening by itself. Her conviction that there is a ghost in the house becomes confirmed when she actually sees a mysterious face in the bathtub water. She goes about trying to discover who this is, first by telling Norman, who dismisses her observations as idle imagination, and then her psychiatrist (Joe Morton) and her best friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) who don’t quite believe her either. Through a long process (half the film) Claire discovers that there was a missing university student and concludes that the missing girl and the ghost are one and the same.

Michelle Pfeiffer in “What Lies Beneath.”

The movie takes a sinister turn as Claire tries to discover what actually happened to the missing girl. In a way that lesser actors could not accomplish, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer succeed making the plot work as the pieces start to fit and we learn about the missing girl and how it affects the Spencers (an extramarital affair). In the end, the mystery is solved, and those who want thrills and chills get them. Anyone who laughs at the end is simply jaded by too many horror pictures. While “What Lies Beneath” isn’t a great thriller, it turns out to be a sobering picture that examines human nature, marriage, infidelity and demonic activity.

Ouija board in “What Lies Beneath” Paramount in this story line is Claire’s interaction with demonic powers. The occult presence in this story line is what causes the element of terror. That, alas, is the thematic focus of most thrillers.

Editor’s Note: Christians would do well to ground themselves in the Word of God rather than the imaginations of men when it comes to supernatural experiences. In the Bible, the nation of Israel was strongly instructed not to be involved with any occultic activity. Leviticus 19:31 says “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.” Numerous other biblical warnings are also given. (For a complete list, see our answer about the occult).

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
This movie seems to draw many different reactions from people; some say its terrible others it say it was really scary and entertaining. I myself found it very scary and interesting. The cussing was minimal five words at most of course zero would be prefered. The occult activity was shown not to work in many situations and when it ended the victor won. While it might not be a movie you would recomend a youth group go visit I would not shun it; rather view the movie and draw you own conclusions. I thought it was scary/suspensful! My Ratings: [3½/4]
—Ryan Campbell, age 19
I was disturbed much more by the comments I read in this forum about the movie than by the movie itself. It appears that many of the “guest reviewers” didn’t pay much attention to the movie they were watching. For one thing, The Ouija board DID NOT work. The dog came in during the seance and she ended up sticking the board in a drawer. Secondly, if you interpret the movie from a psychological standpoint, there was no “possession” of the woman’s character by anyone.

From a psychological standpoint, there was NO GHOST at all. All of the events that occurred in the house—including the apparent “possession” can be explained by the woman’s distraught mental state as she began to remember her husband’s infidelity. As a Christian, I was not offended by this movie. It was a fun, old fashioned scary movie. Not Academy Award material, yeah, but fun. My Ratings: [3/3]
—Kathie Wells, age 43
Bravo to the actors and actresses of What Lies Beneath (WLB). Harrison Ford refuses to be type cast, and has proven himself again, a great actor in this movie about betrayal, murder and revenge. WLB took a little too long to get going, but once it did, it held your attention, and made you want to yell at the screen to help out. A couple of surprises and one comedic relief moment lightened up the built-up tension in the movie.

Overall, WLB was good, but could have been better if it were shorter. On a Christian perspective however, it left me kind of sorrowful. The seemingly innocence of the occult bothered me. I find that society is becoming desensitized by the blatant and common usage of certain things that God finds offensive. The Bible says in Galations 5:19-21 that we should refrain from these things lest we not inherit the kingdom of God.

A good movie; however not a movie for the weak minded or those new to Christ. My Ratings: [2½/4]
—Selina Leonard, age 36
This is definitly the scariest movie that I have ever seen! I enjoyed it thouroughly! It had very little profanity, and only two brief sexual scenes. Go see it! *NOT FOR SMALL CHILDREN* Do not be fooled by the PG-13 rating. This movie is very frightening and intense. My Ratings: [2½/5]
—Adam Renkovish, age 18
Negative
I thought this movie was HORRIBLE! A wife who participates in witchcraft, and a husband who has an affair, kills her, and then attempts to kill his wife! This movie doesn’t have much violence, swearing, or any nudity, but I was offended by the plot. My Ratings: [1/3]
—Melissa
Yes, indeed, it was a scary movie and had me on the edge of my seat throughout, but there were also some problems. Some of the plot didn’t seem to fit together, for example when Harrison Ford “pretends” to electrocute himself, you’re left wondering why. Also when Michelle Pfeiffer thinks the neighbor killed his wife, it confused the plot a bit. The Ouija board disturbed me, even though it didn’t “work.”

The friend bringing M.P. a book on witchcraft also disturbed me. Throughout the movie, no one ever considered consulting a minister, they just went straight to the occult! Although I was entertained by the movie, it reflects the downfall of society and its turn toward witchcraft and the occult.

I would never take a child to see it, or even a teenager. If you can deal with that aspect of it, the rest is bearable. My Ratings: [2/2½]
—Lisa L., age 27
…One thing we know from watching Hollywood movies is that perfect marriages are built on lies. Christians will have a problem with the Ouija board scene. Also, amazingly, no one ever thinks of calling a priest or other qualified spiritual authority to deal with the ghost. The characters fight evil by trying to contact it and they often perform do-it-yourself and make-shift ceremonies. Instead of getting a Bible to study the spiritual world, Claire reads a book on witches and spells and uses the instructions she finds therein to start conjuring the dead. I doubt the spiritual world is so easily manipulated by people creating their own ceremonies.

Also, once again, we have yet another film that states that victims of violent death become ghosts. My Ratings: [2/3]
—Carole McDonnell, age 41
OK… It wasn’t the greatest thriller I have seen. But if you are interested in seeing witchcraft, necromancy, a ouija board, a sceance, a ghost, murder, and a dead body coming alive; then this is the movie for you. I think most Christians should do as I SHOULD HAVE DONE—skip “What Lies Beneath” and spend that time focusing on “things above.” My Ratings: [2/2½]
—Rodney Darville, age 39
“What Lies Beneath” is a disappointment as a movie. On the plus side, Michelle Pfieffer’s performance is quite good and Harrison Ford is decent (not one of his best, but a good one nonetheless) and there are some good jolts and eerie moments (I especially liked the face appearing in the lake) but they don’t add up to good movie.

The scares and jolts are for the most part parlor tricks which would have been effective if the ghost was dealt with properly. Unfortunately, more time is spent talking about the ghost, Ford and Pfeiffer arguing, than scenes involving the ghost going about her business. The ghost hardly seems present in the movie when it should feel like a character. Stuff also doesn’t make sense…

(1) Pfeiffer tells a psychiatrist about voices she’s heard. What voices? The ghost never talks in the movie unless it happened off screen or the screenwriters forgot to put it in.

(2) It is revealed later in the film that a character PRETENDED to be electrocuted what it doesn’t reveal is why.

(3) The ghost leaves after a locke of its hair is destroyed, but it existed in the house before the lock was even there. The film is also cliche ridden. We get the red herring in which we think the ghost is one person when it is another, a piece of evidence put aside only to come back to haunt the protagonist, a false revelation, the real revelation, and the killer who takes a licken, but keeps on ticken (in this film the killer dies four times before finally staying dead).

The big revelation at the end of the film is hardly a surprise and the film is often boring and nothing much seems to be happening. There is some profanity, sexual content, and bloody violence (although it gets quite ludicrous towards the end) but nothing much more than a lot of thrillers.

There are occult elements for those concerned, but this is a fictional movie so I wasn’t offended, I also wasn’t entertained. Thumbs down. My Ratings: [2/2]
—Andrew, age 24
This movie contains occultic material. The basic plot is that the ghost of a murdered woman is able to contact the wife of her former lover and lead her to the truth. Harrison Ford doesn’t really come off very well as a loving husband hiding a terrible dark side. The worst this movie has to offer is it leads one to believe in or reinforces ones belief in the occult. This plot could have been written in such a way that it could have been a good thriller mystery without all the ghost activity.

I would consider it an interesting movie with a slow mid portion. However, this would not be a film for any impressionistic person nor one who hasn’t got a clear understanding of the spirit world according to the Word of God. I was amazed at statements other Christians made regarding their belief in the possibility of such things happening, and originating from a “good” source. My Ratings: [2/2½]
—Mark Dawson, age 50
Comments from young people
Quite a scary movie for teenagers… From a CHRISTIAN point of view, it is not very good. The most obvious reasons are that God told us that everyone will be going to heaven or hell and there will be NO GHOSTS in the world roaming about haunting people.

Second, there is about 10 profanities (including uses of the Lord’s name). Also, there is some sexual activity (though not explicit, it plays on your imagination) and one scene when Harrison hears the neighbors next door having sex and he opens the windows and wants to “have a competition” with the neighbors. Also, there is quite a disturbing scene with a Ouiji board and in the show, it worked. It made them communicate with spirits (definitely against Christianity. Jesus wants us NOT to deal with Satanic stuff).

Also, there is one part where Michelle is possessed by a dead women (ghost) because she followed instructions in some spirit book. (Again, AGAINST God.)… I would definitely not recommend ANYONE to see this movie. Presents too much wrong ideas. My Ratings: [2/3½]
—NK, age 15
I thought this was a wonderful movie! For a generation who didn’t grow up with Alfred Hitchcock, this is a welcomed event. Now a days, you don’t get too many movies that just down right make you jump out of your seat, but “What Lies Beneath” did this many times… My Ratings: [1½/4½]
—Chris, age 17
Movie Critics
…The film includes strong occultic images and even encourages occultic practices…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…a contender for a coveted spot on the year-end Worst 10 List…
—James Berardinelli, ReelViews
…bears the weight of too many genres jostling for screen time…
—Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
…at least 1 use of the “f” word… sounds of a woman having sex…
—ScreenIt!
…Top flight talent on both sides of the camera can’t quite disguise the B-quality of Clark Gregg’s script…
—Emanuel Levy, Variety