Reviewed by: Halyna Barannik
|Featuring:||Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amber Valletta, James Remar, Katharine Towne|
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
“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.
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.
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.