Lies Beneath (2000, dir: Robert Zemeckis; cast: Harrison Ford,
you're passing through a video store, looking for a quiet but scary ghost
story -- pass this one by.
better off renting The
Changeling (Canadian 1979), a film of quiet ghostly scares. Atmospheric,
suspenseful, thought-provoking. Or try Ghost
Story (1981), a film with beautiful wintry scenes, and rich characters
played by seasoned Hollywood Golden Age pros. The
Changeling is a low-budget import, Ghost
Story a big studio effort, yet both are excellent ghost films.
As for What
Lies Beneath ... well, it's hardly worth sitting through two hours
to find out.
its length, its star cast and star director, What
Lies Beneath has a smallish story. One trade critic compared
it to a TV movie. True enough. What
Lies Beneath feels as though it was written as a TV movie, until by
some miracle Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert Zemeckis were
conned into it. Maybe one of them actually liked it, signed on, and
then it snowballed. Once those names signed on, distribution had
to shift to the big screen. The script was lengthened to accommodate
the theatrical distribution and star talent (important people require a
film of important length). A few unnecessary special effects further
padded the story.
a small story. And not a terribly original or compelling one.
Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer are a trendy but classy New England couple. He's a college professor, she's a former concert cellist who gave up her
career to raise a daughter. They're the sort of people who've lived
or worked in Manhattan, attend museums, summer at
the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard, and try to find authenticity in a faux
rustic lifestyle. Literate, sophisticated, a perfect New York
Times Sunday Magazine kind of lifestyle in a small northeastern college
only appear perfect. Soon after their daughter is sent off to college,
Michelle Pfeiffer imagines things. She thinks the couple next door
may not be what they seem. She imagines murder. She imagines
ghosts. But her initial suspicions prove wrong. So too
her new suspicions. What
Lies Beneath is full of twists and turns, and red herrings leading
into more twists and turns, and still more red herrings and twists and
film's end, one wearies.
twists and turns and discoveries feel less suspenseful than artificial. It's as if Zemeckis thought: "Gee, there are so many ways this film can
go ... so many good possibilities ... let's use them all!"
its ponderous length and pretty cinematography, What
Lies Beneath remains a Lifetime Original TV movie. Men are evil,
concealing a "beast within." Women are victims -- smart and brave!
-- but weakened by their one great fault: they just "love too much." (Another critic noted that whenever a man commits adultery in a Lifetime
movie, it's inexcusable. When a women commits adultery, it's "a matter
of the heart." In that sense, The
of Madison County was also a TV movie).
discuss this film without giving away its red herrings or surprise twists,
or letting on which is which. Suffice to say that issues of spousal
abuse and adultery and murder all emerge at various points. The title
has two meanings: what liesbeneath the veneer of domestic
tranquility that neighbors present to the world, and the veneer of love
and fidelity that couples present to each other. And what lies
beneath the ground, and beneath the lake.
know who'd like this film. It's more of a "chick flick" than a horror
film. But "chick flick" fans (which does not include all women) would
dislike the occasional ghostly gore. Horror fans would respond: "What
gore?" For that matter: "What scares?"
are a few shocks buried in those wearying hours. The ghostly makeup
Story. (Now there's a "wronged woman" film that horror fans can
enjoy! If you're tempted to rent What
Lies Beneath, rent Ghost
Ford plays against type. Pfeiffer's the heroine, Ford the cad. That's good for one big surprise (except now I've ruined it for you --
Lies Beneath seems intended as a star vehicle for Pfeiffer. But
since when do TV movies qualify as "star vehicles?" When they're
released on the big screen?
has a clichéd Best Friend. The usual "Rhoda type." Slightly
overweight (obese, by Hollywood standards), always arriving unannounced,
full of wisecracks. One almost hears a TV sitcom laugh trax whenever
her unwelcome presence intrudes, adding yet another unnecessary layer to
this sluggish mess.
is also a clichéd Musty Occult Book. You know the type. Whenever someone in a horror film or TV show confronts the supernatural,
always visit a dim library or used bookstore to research the topic. There they discover a thick, heavy, rare, dusty, musty volume of ancient
lore. Seems these books are hard to come by. No wonder these
people know nothing about ghosts, or vampires, or werewolves. For
some reason, they never enter a brightly lit Barnes & Noble superstore,
where they'd find many aisles of occult books in the New Age section. And not the old musty kind with woodcut illustrations, but shiny, new,
it is the clichéd Wisecracking Best Friend who delivers the clichéd
Musty Occult Book to Pfeiffer.
the special effects, they're pretty, but often unnecessary. Without
the effects, What
Lies Beneath could have been shot as a workable TV movie. One
senses that after the stars signed on and theatrical distribution was secured,
the budget rose in all areas, so they had to find ways to spend it.
the final scene is in a cemetery. It's the prettiest scene in the
film, seemingly shot indoors on a sound stage. Wintry gray "skies." Shades of gray tinged with white and black, creating a bleak, expressionistic
-- almost Caligarian -- sensibility. Then as a final touch, just
before the end credits, the outlines of a woman's face forms in the snow. Not a clear image, but the kind one sees in passing clouds.
a team of computer graphic artists spent at least several days on just
that one image. It's a pretty image, but wholly unnecessary to the
just a TV movie.
Review copyright by Thomas
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