What Lies Beneath

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror/violence, sensuality and brief language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
July 26, 2000

In my last review, I described Loser as being worse than it deserved to be. This time, I will review a film that has no business at all getting a positive review, yet that is going to happen.

Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) gives us his version of a summer horror flick. It stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer, a woman who is upset that her only daughter has left for college. Her husband, Norman (Harrison Ford), has no time for sympathy as he works tirelessly for the local university as a geneticist.

Claire becomes further worried when she starts spying on the neighbors, and it looks like Mr. Feur (James Remar) has killed Mrs. Feur (Miranda Otto). Then a ghost appears to be haunting them, which she believes is Mrs. Feur, but when she turns out to be alive, the spirit is revealed to be Madison Frank (Amber Valletta), a college student who disappeared a year ago. Claire is then possessed by the spirit, and discovers that Norman had an affair with her, and the mystery deepens.

Now, many of those events don't take place until the film is more than half-over. They are, unfortunately, revealed in all the advertising, so only the revelations in the very end remain unspoiled. The film still manages to entertain in the meantime, but mostly through predictable clichés. Whenever clichés aren't used, Zemeckis just steals from Hitchcock films, including Rear Window, Psycho, and even The Lodger.

With all this thievery and copping out, why does this film still work? The reason is that Zemeckis obviously had a fun time making a trashy supernatural suspense-thriller. Call it tasteful schlock, if you will. He doesn't try pandering to teenagers, which most adult audiences should appreciate, not to mention a whole lot of screen time for Pfeiffer -- who looks stunning. Sadly, the same can't be said about Ford, but his screen time is relatively small for a first-billed performance. Even so, these are likable actors working for a talented director, and the sins they commit can be (mostly) forgiven.

If you compare this film to The In Crowd, you will see why I manage to like it. Oddly enough, Katharine Towne has brief appearances in both this film (as the absent daughter) and that last excuse for a thriller. As if two films premiering the same week weren't enough, she also appears in But I'm a Cheerleader, which is the subject of my next review. What Lies Beneath was by far the most successful in its opening (the other two not even making the top ten), but this should bring her a fair amount of recognition. Well, maybe not, since she looks completely different in all three. Anyway, it's still an amazing coincidence.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
What Lies Beneath (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
What Lies Beneath (2000) -- VHS
What Lies Beneath (2000) -- DVD
What Lies Beneath: Score -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan