Saturday 5 November 2022

Movie Review: What Lies Beneath (2000)

A ghost story, What Lies Beneath offers adequate but unsustained suspense as spectral incidents threaten a seemingly perfect marriage.

Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) gave up her career as a concert cellist to marry genetics doctor Norman Spector (Harrison Ford). They now live an ideal life in leafy Vermont, although Norman is under pressure to complete a research paper in time for a conference. With their daughter off to college, Claire is often alone and senses a ghostly presence in the house. New neighbours Warren and Mary Feur (James Remar and Miranda Otto) also appear to be hiding something.

After Mary disappears, Claire starts to see visions of a young woman reflected in the bathtub water, and stumbles upon clues pointing to a never-solved missing woman case. She turns to her mystic friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) for help in contacting the dead. With his wife increasingly frantic, Norman has to evaluate his next move.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Clark Gregg, What Lies Beneath combines traditional low-key supernatural genre elements (doors opening by themselves, picture frames falling off the shelf) with a few well-placed jump scares and an undertone of psychological distress. The result is not bad: glossy production values contribute to tense enjoyment, and enough past and present secrets and red herrings are thrown into the tub to ensure engagement.

Claire's mental state and strained everything-is-fine exterior cast doubt on the reality of her experiences. Resentment over a lost career, her one daughter now out of the house, a car accident, a memory loss episode, and a distracted husband all contribute to fragility. The opening hour pokes at her insecurities, resulting in a promising build-up. 

The second half resorts to familiar scares and many muddled symbols (a lock of hair, a necklace, a jewelry box, possession) and is less impactful, with a final act stretched beyond the point of exhaustion. However, as the showdown plays out, Zemeckis does craft an excellent Hitchcockian sequence in the form of a desperate struggle against rising water in a bathtub.

Michelle Pfeiffer is an icy presence as a woman trying to hold her life together and rationalize the irrational. In an unusual role, Harrison Ford is marginalized for long stretches, but moves into the spotlight as the climax approaches. The impressive star power helps, but What Lies Beneath remains a bit damp.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.