What Lies Beneath

I understand with so much on the line, movie studios feel compelled to sell the hell out of their wares, but must they insist on throwing out the baby with the bath water? Are the people cutting film trailers today so brain-dead that the only thing they’re capable of delivering is an encapsulated version of the film?

whatliesbeneathWhoever cut and whoever finally approved the theatrical trailer for “What Lies Beneath” should be banned from the business. Anyone who has seen the trailer will be one hour ahead of the characters. I don’t mind being teased into seeing a film, but when a trailer divulges an important plot twist that doesn’t occur until at least an hour into the film, something is terribly wrong.

I liked “What Lies Beneath,” which is a slick, contemporary adult supernatural thriller. The problem is I would have loved the film had I been able to discover the plot twists for myself. I hated the PR people for robbing me of that experience.

Watching “What Lies Beneath” after seeing the preview makes the first hour of the film pointless. The domestic drama between noted geneticist and husband Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford) and his wife Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) becomes nothing more than a distraction as we wait for the characters to catch up.

That revelation is their Norman Rockwell Vermont home might be haunted. Anyone who has seen the preview already knows the truth, so we sit patiently by as Claire struggles through one creepy encounter after another. She thinks the house in haunted. He thinks she’s crazy. We know better.

Norman wants to blame Claire’s state of mind on her daughter having just left for college, but can’t explain the physical manifestations that haunt Claire like the steamy bathroom, the picture that keeps falling and the door that won’t stay closed.

Poor Claire. She’s not sure if she’s going nuts or if the house really is haunted. All of the melodrama she’s put through is totally lost on anyone who has seen the trailer and knows better. Too bad, because the domestic drama that occupies the first hour of the film is essential to the emotional payoff at the end. It’s like the time a friend of mine accidentally walked in on the freeze frame that ends “Gallipoli.” Even though there was an hour-and-a-half of great drama that lead up to that moment, my friend felt it would be pointless to sit through the rest of the film.

Writer Clark Gregg does a good job of setting all of this up, creating believable characters and honestly chilling situations. “What Lies Beneath” isn’t just a ghost story but a thriller about how everyday fears can be just as frightening. Those everyday fears begin manifest themselves in Claire, who gave up a career as a classical cellist to raise her daughter with the man of her dreams. Her marriage falling apart is just as scary as anything supernatural.

Pfeiffer takes Claire beyond the written word, giving her a presence that is both fragile and strong willed. Claire seems to have a perfect life, but it’s just a facade hiding an insecure woman who hates that her husband is more dedicated to his career. After her daughter leaves for college and she’s left to her own devices, Claire becomes extremely vulnerable.

Her overactive imagination takes her down the road of a Nancy Drew mystery, suspecting that the wife next door may be the victim of foul play. Is it her spirit haunting Claire? Once again, anyone who has seen the preview will know the truth.

Ford is extremely good as Norman Spencer, a brilliant man forever lost in the shadow of his dead father. Ford does a superb job of shading Norman, delivering a complex character who one moment is a loving, devoted husband, the next a man driven by his desire to play God. He walks that tightrope with the skill of a professional, constantly keeping us guessing if he will ever fall.

Director Zemeckis also keeps us off balance, building up to a second half that more than delivers the goods. His fluid, moving camera (thanks to cinematographer Don Burgess) helps the film maintain an undercurrent of dread, and allows the director the opportunity to constantly add information to the frame. Simple, innocent acts like talking on the phone become unbearable moments of suspense.

While most of the jolts consist of nothing more than tossing a cat into the frame, Zemeckis is such a skilled director they work here. Savvy audiences know that whenever anyone in a thriller opens a refrigerator door that someone will be behind it when the door is closed. It takes an equally savvy director to deliver that moment with a jolt.

Zemeckis and Gregg claim they wanted to make an adult thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock, and for the most part, have succeeded. “What Lies Beneath” is a class act that does indeed borrow heavily from the master. There’s no denying that Alan Silvestri’s musical score is a tribute to the late Bernard Herrmann, while the subtle homages to “Rear Window” and “Psycho” are no coincidence.

Hitchcock would have loved “What Lies Beneath,” even though he disdained the use of supernatural themes in his films (with the exception of his last, “Family Plot,” which revealed one of the characters as a true psychic). Hitchcock, who went through great lengths to keep the plot points of “Psycho” a secret, would have hated what the PR people did to it. I agree.

TRAILER TRASHComing attraction sabotages decent adult thriller


Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, James Remar, Joe Morton, Miranda Otto in a film directed by Robert Zemeckis. Rated PG-13. 130 Minutes.


Comments are closed.