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What Lies Beneath (2000) – Movie Review

What Lies Beneath

Written by: Clark Gregg, story by Clark Gregg & Sarah Kernochan
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, James Remar, Miranda Otto

My Advice: Wait for MST3K.

The Spencers (Ford and Pfeiffer) have just sent their only daughter (Katherine Towne) off to college, and now they’re trying to cope with an empty nest. Well, Mrs. S is; Mr. S is engrossed in his research studies. Things get a bit complex as strange phenomena begin to occur in their house–only apparent to Mrs. S though. Either she’s going nutso or there is something in their house–but if she’s still sane, then what is this entity and, most importantly, what does it want with her?

Now you know I’ve never been one to write reviews that contain spoilers, and I’m not about to start here. But still, the primary problem with this film is that the trailers, the synopsis released by DreamWorks–everything the studio has put out goes ahead and tells you that the spirit in the house is a girl that Mr. S had an affair with. So with that knowledge, what’s the point of the first hour of the film? It consists of a Hitch-schlockian red herring that we already know is false. So what could have been at least intriguing is instead a real waste of time. And of course, when I say “first hour” that strongly implies that there is a second hour. There is–and you can feel every minute of it.

[ad#longpost]But it’s not just that, although that should be enough to ruin the film. Another huge flaw is that, excluding the sexual bits, it’s chock full of the kind of stuff a middle school film class would devise for their idea of a really neat thriller. If you do see the film, you can see it was written using a process I call “retro-foreshadowing”. This process consists of screenwriters deciding, after the initial draft is complete, that they should go back and plug in painfully obvious tidbits that you can be certain will turn up later. The end result of this process is that the seams show and show badly. This is what happens when people try to be clever.

While I’m speaking about middle school film projects here, did someone just have a checklist of Things to Make People Jump nearby? If you’ve seen a few films in this genre, you can very quickly spot the scare coming. They’re so cliche you can even give them names. It’s-Just-The-Dog. When-She-Shuts-the-Door-It’ll-Be-There. These are two that spring to mind.

And if there’s anything that torques me off more than being able to figure out the so-called twists a half-hour before the characters, it’s the ridiculous over-the-top and masturbatorial nods to Alfred H. throughout the ending sequences. I say sequences because the film should have ended several times and the ending felt it like it stretched on for a virtual third hour. Remember boys and girls: good films have homages, bad ones have rip-offs.

Ford and Pfeiffer are much better actors that the material deserved. Although they tried to make the best of a bad situation, anyone could have taken their places. A few tense scenes and one especially taut bit with a tub can’t salvage a film that wants to be a supernatural whodunit thriller, but instead is a bad way to spend a couple of hours. They garnered the film a half-a-cup, while one small bit with James Remar gives it the other half-cup. In other words, I wouldn’t bother with it.