WHAT LIES BENEATH
Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:06 - Released 7/21/00
A good thriller's success rests primarily on three factors: the plausibility of its plot, the effectiveness of its special effects, and its star's ability to scream. What Lies Beneath, the new ghost-torments-married-couple story written by Sarah Kernochan and Clark Gregg and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Contact), has two of the three elements covered pretty well. The effects are good and Michelle Pfeiffer's screams are passable. From the standpoint of plausibility, it maintains a good rating until the final reel, which is when most horror/thrillers lose it, and it loses it with reckless abandon. Harrison Ford's character in particular is terribly conflicted and, toward the end, patently unbelievable.
The action takes place in a small Vermont town where noted
physicist Norman Spencer (Ford) and his formerly famous cellist
wife Claire (Pfeiffer) live, having just sent their only daughter
off to college. Alone during the day in an empty house, Claire
starts having strange experiences. She thinks she witnesses a
murder at the new neighbors' house, she thinks she sees a body
floating in the lake, she keeps forgetting to tell Norman to fix
the front door. She tries everything from witchcraft to Ouija
boards to confront the spirit that plagues her, and finally discovers
the whole truth and her husband's involvement in it.
Besides Ford's character being inconsistent, the story is irritatingly
full of red herrings, one of which is so monumental and badly
explained it practically derails the suspension of disbelief.
It doesn't help that this story is none too subtly similar to
last year's Kevin Bacon film Stir
of Echoes, which handled the material much better. But
faults in the script are partially overcome by Zemeckis's skillful
directing, slowly, subtly raising the tension and therefore the
hairs on the back of our collective necks. Pfeiffer, who is on
screen for practically the entire film, is suitably buggy, although
neither she nor the script adequately brings out the terrible
experience in her past that is supposed to account for her pre-existing
psychotic condition. In addition to hers, there are also a couple
of really enjoyable supporting performances by Joe Morton as the
psychiatrist and Diana Scarwid as Claire's best friend.
But toward the end of the film, the script goes over the top and Ford, Pfeiffer, and Zemeckis go right over with it. All the old trite horror hallmarks come to bear, including the killer-not-staying-dead routine, the victim intentionally going into unwise places, and a ridiculous, heavy-action finale. Despite its promising start, I left this film with one impression: never engage in underwater fist fights with dead women. ***½
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