I’m getting waterlogged – it seems that filmmakers are entranced with drowning as a plot element. After gurgling through Titanic and sputtering during The Perfect Storm, I’m gasping for air after seeing What Lies Beneath. A cinematically perfect take on old-fashioned psychological thrillers, Beneath offers character development and slasher horror. But ultimately, the end result is like a melted Popsicle: wet and disappointing.
Poor Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) is having a crisis. After surviving a bad car crash the year before, she pops Valium like M&M’s, and wanders the house in the middle of the night instead of staying in bed, even though her husband is Harrison Ford – I mean Dr. Norman Spencer. Plus it doesn’t help things that her beloved daughter is heading off to college. So with lots of time on her hands, Claire starts believing that she’s hearing and seeing things and asks her friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) to join her in some Ouija board action. If you’ve ever watched a horror movie you know this isn’t a good idea.
Now something or someone is really haunting Claire and, of course, her husband thinks she needs a psychiatrist instead of an exorcist. Lots of scary things ensue and finally Claire and Norman find out who her ghost is (or was), and the film deteriorates into predictability. Yet unlike certain dummies who think it’s smart to put MAJOR PLOT TWISTS in their movie trailers, I will stop the story summary here. If Hollywood really wants to boost their theater audience, then maybe they should STOP GIVING AWAY ENTIRE MOVIE PLOTS before films are even released. Doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.
Much has been written about how What Lies Beneath incorporates bits of Alfred Hitchcock films like Rear Window and Psycho. All this is very nice for film nuts, but either distracting or uninteresting for everyone else. Also, the story gets weird in the third act when a major event occurs that explains the car accident, Claire’s dependence on Valium, emotional fragility etc., and is totally ignored. The entire film leads up to this climatic moment, then scurries past it like it’s unimportant. I think that after the studio leaked the major plot twist referred to above, the climax became reduced to a ho-hum event that took up precious screen time better used for bloody knife-wielding.
So while What Lies Beneath isn’t a great film, it’s not a bad one either, with lots of scares that keep the action moving. And it doesn’t hurt that Michelle and Harrison make a likeable and convincing couple. And a wet one.