58 – What Lies Beneath

Both Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer have had tremendous careers, filled with success both artistic and financial. Both are A-list stars, among the most bankable in Hollywood. And director Robert Zemeckis is no slouch either, having helmed (among others) such Tom Hanks vehicles as Forrest Gump and Cast Away. You wouldn’t think such a cast and director would deign to be in a horror film, albeit one with a sizable budget, but here they are, in this wonderful, captivating thriller.

Claire (Pfeiffer) and Norman (Ford) are a well-to-do married couple living on a somewhat palatial lakeside estate in Vermont. Norman’s a research scientist and spends much of his time finishing papers and giving lectures while Claire stays at home, dealing with the emotional aftereffects of a recent car crash.

Norman has a stepdaughter, Caitlin, who goes off to college at the beginning of the movie. For the first time in years, Claire is alone in the house, and she notices strange things afoot. She experiences some strange phenomena, including a woman’s reflection in her bathwater. The fragile Claire is convinced the disturbances have something to do with the strange couple next door, and urges her husband to look into the matter. He finds nothing, of course, and asks her to see a therapist, thinking that his lovely wife is still unstable.

But the therapist recommends contacting whatever might be causing the disturbances, and that’s when the fun begins. Is this a typical haunted house story? Assuredly not, dear friend. The people in the house are not killed off one by one until the Hero and Heroine face the Ghost in a Bull Run standoff. This is a fascinating thriller, with the audience with Claire
all the way. There are more twists to this plot than in the typical tax form. Many screenwriters keep horror/thriller plots as simple as possible to avoid confusion and to avoid stepping on their own toes. Sarah Kernochan and Clark Gregg do not take any shortcuts here, though. Every turn is a hair-raising ride; every other scene is jaw-dropping. It would be easy to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but when that happens you have a plot filled with nonsequiturs. Not so here, folks. You know how sometimes critics tell you not to look too closely at the plot, because then the holes show through? Go ahead, I dare you to look closely at this one.

Zemeckis directed this while he was on hiatus from Cast Away (which was necessary so Tom Hanks could get in the right shape for the rest of the movie). Some people mock Zemeckis for being simply a director of films that simply appeal to the masses; he’s criticized for being successful despite himself. His work here, however, shows how talented he really is. For
example, many directors rely on loud soundtracks to “sell” their blockbuster films. But in What Lies Beneath, Zemeckis made great use of the ultimate sound – silence. And that’s how you make a creepy movie, folks. The guys behind The Blair Witch Project knew it, too. What you DON’T see in a movie is always scarier than what you DO see. And with no sound, the eeriness
factor grows exponentially.

This certainly makes it onto the list of my favorite films of the year. You gotta see this!

What Lies Beneath: 9

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