What Lies Beneath


Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by:Clark Gregg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton, James Remar, Miranda Otto, Katharine Towne
Released: November 2, 2000
Grade: B

We meet Dr Norman Spencer (Ford) and his wife Claire (Pfeiffer) in their perfect little house in a perfect part of the country and everything is well, perfect.  You sort of know what’s going to happen next now don’t you?  Everything becomes not quite so perfect.

Every time Norman is out, Claire hears strange creaks and noises from within the house.  At first she dispels these occurrences but when they persistently continue and an illusion starts appearing, things are getting a little scary. 

So who is this mysterious illusion and why does she inhabit their home?  I hate to give more away but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll already know the answer.  Why 20th Century Fox would choose to give away the key secret of the film is beyond me.  It’s like telling everybody before the movie that in Psycho, Norman Bates was impersonating his mother.

Director Robert Zemeckis compares the 20th Century Fox strategy to that of McDonalds and its success.  The reason McDonalds is so popular is that there are no surprises and people know exactly what they’re getting.  It is Zemeckis’s theory that cinema goers work in a similar vein - people like to go to a movie knowing what they’re in for (and can I add Double Jeopardy as another good example this year).  This astounds me particularly when the whole point of a thriller is to shock and surprise.

Given I knew who the apparition was, I sat impatiently through the first hour waiting for her identity to be revealed.  It seems that this wasn’t the only ghost to appear - Alfred Hitchcock appears to have risen from the grave himself to direct What Lies Beneath.  I have the utmost respect for Zemeckis in light of his last film, Contact, but his insistence on creating a Hitchcock-like film doesn’t quite result in the intended effect.  Things have changed since his era.

Music is kept to a minimum, the smallest sounds are amplified, and tricky camera angles will have you jumping from your seat more than once.  The film is quite scary but ruined by a ludicrous ending that has you questioning rather than enjoying the finale.  At film’s end, someone tries to kill someone else (that’s all I can say).  Firstly, I cannot understand why the person in question would try to kill the other.  Secondly, I cannot understand the method of killing and finally, I cannot understand how the other person escapes.  That sounds very vague I know but you’ll read them in a new light once you’ve seen the movie.

Michelle Pfeiffer is well suited to her role despite it being very different from her “norm” and it’s great to see her in action.  Harrison Ford’s role is much smaller and fans will be disappointed by his weaker showing (both in terms of time and performance).  Australian fans hoping to catch Miranda Otto can stay home as she features for not much more than a minute.

After dominating the box-office in the United States, What Lies Beneath is yet another in the ever growing list of Dreamworks blockbusters.  A film worth recommending if only we didn’t know “what lies beneath”.