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|September 12, 2000||
Dial S for Suspense...
I have a confession to make: I admit I watched a lot of What Lies Beneath through my fingers and parts of it with one eye firmly closed.
What lies beneath? Key elements of a classic Hitchcockian thriller, voyeurism, a blonde in peril, terror in everyday surroundings, marital infidelity, suppressed memory, a vengeful lover, and a spouse with a deadly secret, among other things.
Show me a supernatural flick that doesn't have at least one bathtub or shower sequence, flickering candles, windblown curtains, lightning, doors that open and close by themselves and dead bodies that aren't really dead, and I'll show you a bar that doesn't stock beer.
In What Lies Beneath, Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) is an apparently normal housewife going through an apparently normal case of the empty nest syndrome as her only child has just left for college.
Her scientist husband Norman (Harrison Ford), spends all his time at the lab, leaving Claire alone in their country home for days on end. Except that she starts to believe that she isn't really alone in their Vermont Lake country house.
A haunted presence fills up empty bathtubs, scrawls notes on steamed-up bathroom windows and drops picture frames. The ghost's reflection turns up in the water; she even takes over Claire's body for a while, and is sexually more rapacious than Claire (Lucky Norman?!).
But what does this lustful spirit want? Could it have something to do with the body Claire is convinced she saw being dragged out of the neighbour's house one night? Is Norman letting on all he knows?
Revealing any of these answers would be saying a bit too much though the trailers for What Lies Beneath carelessly spill roughly three-fourths of the storyline.
Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis -- known for his cross-genre competence in movies such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Contact and Forrest Gump -- takes time to let the film unfold and gently eases the audience into Claire's nightmare.
At times, instead of accelerating the pace, he slows things down almost to excruciating effect.
The first half of What Lies Beneath has us enthralled. Each new detail has the power to conjure a whole hidden level of unknown and suspenseful history, gradually peeling away the easy familiarity we think we know to reveal a reality we never even suspected existed.
It's Pfeiffer's movie all the way with Ford graciously taking second place. Pfeiffer's all-bones-and-eyes-face makes her a fittingly haunting presence to guide us into the paranormal. Claire's descent into psychic instability is credible and heartbreaking to view.
Ford plays the seemingly dependable spouse with a skeleton in his closet with indifference to start with but subsequently breathes life into his character as the film progresses.
Surrounding Ford and Pfeiffer is an ensemble of actors, each of whom faithfully adding to the ghostly ambience in this suspense-drenched Hitchcockian story.
However, there are moments in What Lies Beneath that hint at something deeper and darker. But, regrettably, more often than not, the film settles for a smattering of cliched clues, which dutifully and predictably fall into place along the way.
The last reel is where plausibility ceases and the script dredges up every unbelievable cliché you've ever seen. What Lies Beneath goes on about 15 minutes longer than it should have with Zemeckis relying excessively on tried and overused tricks that uninspired horror-makers employ.
For all his skill, Zemeckis is no innovator. He borrows liberally from great past directors. What Lies Beneath is a scary rerun of some spookier films such as Rosemary's Baby, Rear Window, Diabolique, The Exorcist, Fatal Attraction and Psycho.
However, this déjà vu thriller achieves what it sets out to do.
It mixes a human story with supernatural elements such that you will be compelled to sink deeper into your seat, hold your hands to your face, shut your eyes, and then laugh after the inevitable scare is over.
And I'll take What Lies Beneath any day over all the Screams of the world!
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