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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 Mark Fleming
3 stars out of 4

The paranormal thriller is enjoying such a revival that movies once regarded as Friday night multiplex fodder have gained newfound respectability. This blend of dark drama and ghost story creates less psychological suspense than Sixth Sense, but provokes a far more impressive tally of heart-jarring, if somewhat clichéd, jump-from-seat moments.

Although living in an apparently ideal marriage, Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) is emotionally scarred after surviving a horrendous car crash. Renovating her deceased father-in-law's lakeside mansion in Vermont, she begins to receive messages from beyond the grave. She assumes they are from a murdered neighbour. In fact, they reveal sordid truths far closer to home.

The palpable tension created by the ghostly visitations isn't purely for shock then; they help piece together a terrible secret. This device works effectively, especially for those viewers who haven't already guessed the plot twist. The film climaxes in a Hitchcockian adrenaline rush, complete with one of those murderers who possesses more lives than a cat home.

Pfeiffer gives her role compassion and composed power, only occasionally lapsing into wide-eyed trances when conveying possession by the spirit of a missing student. Harrison Ford as the husband, Professor Norman Spencer, only comes alive when he becomes a homicidal maniac. He spends the rest of the time in a growling sleepwalk. Close-ups leave you with a sense of shock: was Indiana Jones really that long ago?

Towards the end, Director Zemeckis disables the breaks and subjects us to a rollercoaster of thrills and hair-bleaching shocks. One stand-out is where Norman is drowning his anaesthetized wife in the bath and she must battle to unplug it with her weak toe, while completely submerged. Breathtaking suspense.

This is familiar territory. Whenever you see the bloodied villain face down you know it's only a matter of time before his eyes flicker open. You know he is in the back of the trailer. You know the getaway car will crash into the lake at the precise point the dead girl's phantom is lurking.

Nevertheless, this post-Hitchcock thriller keeps tension on a tightrope for long periods of time, only lapsing into slapstick towards the end.

Copyright © 2001 Mark Fleming

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