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What Lies Beneath

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: What Lies Beneath

Starring: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: July 2000
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Wendy Crewson, Joe Morton, Amber Valletta, James Remar, Rachel Singer

Review by John Beachem
2 stars out of 4

Claire and Norman Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford respectively) have just sent there daughter, Caitlin (Katharine Towne), off to college. Now Claire is home alone every day while Norman, apparently a brilliant geneticist, works on a project which would be the crowning achievement in his career. While home alone, Claire begins to notice strange events occurring around her, like whispering in an empty room and doors opening without being touched (I couldn't help but keep thinking she really needed to get that door fixed). The new neighbor, Warren Feur (James Remar, previously seen in the beyond merely awful "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation"), and his wife, Mary Feur (Miranda Otto), have been fighting every evening; now Mary has disappeared. Claire begins to think the strange events are actually Mary's ghost trying to contact her so Claire can catch Warren as her murderer. Yet, as Claire pursues this belief, events begin to make her suspect the ghost is actually someone from her own past, with whom her husband may have been involved.

Anyone who has seen the trailers for "What Lies Beneath" knows exactly how events transpire after my brief plot summary. When I first sat down to write this review I was going to write a mean, scathing review which smashed the movie for being predictable. After I pondered this awhile, I decided the film's lack of surprises was more the fault of DreamWorks than Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") and company. This brings up an interesting point: can a film be blamed for its trailers giving the whole story away? While I could sit here and display point after point in defense of and against this theory, I'm sure you'd prefer to hear a review of the actual movie. "What Lies Beneath" is, at its core, a mess of a film; borrowing from a dozen different genres, and stealing outright from Hitchcock (particularly "Rear Window") on several occasions. If that's the case, why didn't I rate it lower you ask? Simply because if you haven't seen the previews, it's probably going to throw quite a few delightful surprises and legitimate startles (although I don't know about actual scares) at you.

You would think that any movie starring both Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford would feature some outstanding acting. Strangely enough, the acting in "What Lies Beneath" is one of the film's weaker points. Michelle Pfeiffer, one of the more gifted actresses in Hollywood, turns in a performance which fluctuates back and forth from over-the top antics to looking bored out of her mind. Harrison Ford, the man who actually managed to make "Six Days, Seven Nights" bearable, turns in his most wooden performance to date. I'm beginning to think Ford is just burned out on acting. I think he wants to make his last Indiana Jones movie and retire from acting, so he can pursue being a carpenter to his heart's content. If that's not the case, and he's just losing his acting skills, then I hope he does decide to retire from acting so he won't be remembered for roles like the one played here. The only other person given any screen time is Diana Scarwid (whose career is full of TV movie appearances), playing Claire's best friend, Jody. Jody is a very unusual character, being a hippy-like woman obsessed with the occult, yet frightened when confronted by the real thing. She also uses words like "trippin", which I didn't think even hippyish older people used anymore. Scarwid does an adequate job playing Jody, and actually outdoes Pfeiffer in a few scenes (just to give you a hint of how below average Pfeiffer's performance is in this film).

Perhaps most troublesome about this film (aside from the trailers of course) is Robert Zemeckis' normally astute directorial abilities vanishing into thin air. This was the man who brought us the magnificent, multiple Oscar winning "Forrest Gump"; with its perfect pacing, soundtrack, and acting, and he now gives us a film so languid in its pacing I saw people falling asleep in the theater. The reason for this is simple: the only "scares" that come out of a movie like "What Lies Beneath" are from objects and people suddenly appearing on screen, while music blasts out of dead silence, and scenes like Harrison Ford sneaking up behind his wife for no other reason than to scare her and movie goers (I don't know, but I'd think most wives would smack their husbands upside the head for sneaking up on them like that). In a movie where these are the only scares, the audience sits and waits anxiously for the next startle effect. In "What Lies Beneath", Zemeckis has spread these effects out so thinly that one can only wait anxiously for so long before not caring anymore. Sarah Kernochan and Clark Gregg don't help much when they seem to place the movie's significant events in the wrong order. We are granted supposedly startling revelations at certain points in the movie when we have no idea what is going on (take Claire finding a box full of old things in the basement, for example).

Clark Gregg's script may have one or two really good startle effects, and one really creepy looking scene near the film's end, but it's also full of horror movie cliches. We get everything from the dog being present only so it can sense danger that the humans can't tell is near, to someone looking dead multiple times only to keep springing back to life. My second largest complaint with the movie was in regards to the ending, which just seems to go on and on for a good 45 minutes or so. I don't know about you, but I start losing interest in the end of a film once it breaks the twenty five minute mark. In "What Lies Beneath" Zemeckis gives us big final climaxes not once, not twice, but thrice. By the third one, I was getting more than a little bored. The other problem with the ending is that while those classic "yeah right" moments are essential to any horror film, "What Lies Beneath" uses them perhaps five or six times too many. I felt like I was watching the latest "Friday the 13th" film rather than a classy, dramatic scare flick. The film's score, by composer Alan Silvestri ("The Abyss"), starts off low and eerie, yet sadly underused; then just as it gets loud, dramatic, and obnoxious, Zemeckis decides to start using it non-stop. I'd recommend "What Lies Beneath" to fans of Hitchcock as long as they can handle seeing the master's work stolen several times. I give it three out of five stars.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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