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WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000)
Rated PG13 for terror/violence, sensuality, and brief language.
Genre: Horror, mystery, thriller, drama.
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis.
Written by: Sarah Kernochan (story) and
Tagline: And now for a trip down Adamant lane.
Complete with thunderstorms and self-opening doors, a picture frame leading to a new clue, another slip in the dialogue, just when you think you have the mystery solved "What Lies Beneath" unveils another twist, another broken picture, and mysterious neighbors. Yes, "What Lies Beneath" is your typical scary movie - or is it? A contemporary digression from typical blockbuster horrors, "What Lies Beneath" is a refreshing take on a scary movie that relies on the aura of a puzzle to build the suspense, leaving out the gore in lieu of the believable elements of spirits, seances, and Ouija boards?
Claire is a forty-something mother, who, between her workaholic husband, and her daughter newly off at college, has found herself lonely and bored, with an emphasis on the former. As her husband leaves for a weekend conference strange things begin to happen in Claire's new house. With doors suddenly starting to open on their own, and storms manifesting weird images, Claire begins to speculate the house may be haunted. Still unsure, her anxiety is heightened by presence of a rather detestable set of neighbors. To make matters worse Claire is seeing things, i.e. dead people, rather, a dead woman who looks mysteriously similar to her in the reflection of bath water, etc.
With the help of Ouija boards and the comic relief of a best friend named Jody, Claire tries to ease her nerves and settle into the comforts of her new life. But something, or someone just won't desist. What's more, Claire is trying to deal with all this while coping from the psychological repercussions of a near-death car crash that occurred nearly a year ago; a crash so bad it wrapped Claire's car around a tree at speeds upward of eighty miles an hour.
As Claire works to solve a mystery that turns out to be no mystery at all, she questions her mental stability as one conspiracy to the next proves to make a fool out of her, or so it seems. But if all is normal, then why do picture frames, nay a picture frame, keep falling off her nightstand? Moreover, why are their glitches in her memory, glitches that seem somehow attached to some important, bigger mystery; a mystery that seems to involve a girl named Madison Elizabeth Frank? That's not all however. It seems Madison Elizabeth Frank is dead, and Claire's husband, Norman, might be the only one with the answer to her death. and Claire's.
With an appropriately attune score lingering in the background, Zemeckis achieves his goal of a suspense driven film, catalyzed and perpetuated by the psychological roller coaster of the ups and downs of Claire's psyche. Halfway through the film, Zemeckis adds another layer to this effect by incorporating the development of Norman Spencer's pathos as well. What you have is this harboring tension between man and woman, husband and wife, and ultimately, two strangers who don't trust one another. With a rather nice twist at the end, the plot isn't altogether unpredictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. The moment of prediction occurs at the exact moment of our discovery of betrayal, a key element to the success of the film, and its synchronization and continuity. Also credible were the special effects, which focused on more the cinematography of still-shots, detail-oriented scenes, and the contrast of lighting.
Particularly enjoyable are the scenes that include Jody, Claire's best friend. With tension mounting from fifteen minutes into the film, Jody is a breath of fresh air that allows one's senses to recuperate every ten minutes or so, preventing the audience from tiring in their mental endeavor to solve the mystery alongside Claire.
Also memorable are the simple portrait-esque shots. With a Technicolor and simplicity to the scenes, it allows one to appreciate the visual splendor of the backdrop and setting of a quiet comfortable home by the bay; unconsciously reflecting on the inner desire's of one's quiet wishes and wants.
Overall the film was rather well forecasted. Nothing seemed overdone or contrived, and the closely-knit plot wove together new twists and turns seamlessly. Though this movie won't gross you out like a slasher, it will make you jump and scream at perfectly calculated moments of climax. May I suggest watching it with the lights off, cuddled up to your loved one for a particularly memorable effect on your viewing pleasure.
Claire Spencer, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is the anxiety stricken, psychologically wrecked housewife tormented by a past and a future that leave much unanswered.
Norman Spencer, played by Harrison Ford, is the workaholic scientist and husband of the emotionally wrecked Claire Spencer.
Jodie, played by Diana Scarwid, is the comically relieving best friend whose one-liners and light air provide temporary relief from the suspense-building film.