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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.49%
Worth A Look: 24.66%
Pretty Bad: 19.86%
Total Crap: 8.22%

8 reviews, 98 user ratings

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What Lies Beneath
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by EricDSnider

"Lots of cheating to force you into thinking you're scared."
3 stars

Robert Zemeckis has been producer for several horror movies, none of them particularly great examples of the genre ("House on Haunted Hill," "Bordello of Blood," etc.), but at least passable diversions, suggesting that to whatever extent he's been involved in the films as a producer, he has some idea what works and what doesn't.

When it comes to directing, though, he's stuck to more soft-hearted fare: "Forrest Gump" and the "Back to the Future" trilogy, for example.

So now that he's actually directing a thriller himself -- "What Lies Beneath," starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer -- we discover something that is true of a lot of areas of life: Just because you can supervise a project doesn't mean you'd be good at doing the work yourself.

Ford is Norman Spencer, a medical scientist who lives with his wife, Claire (Pfeiffer), a former Juilliard-trained cellist, in Vermont. When their daughter goes off to college, Claire starts to experience "empty nest" symptoms: i.e., she hears voices and, eventually, sees images of a young woman's ghost.

At first she thinks it's the woman who lives next door, whom she suspects was killed by her husband. (There's the first of several Hitchcock homages -- or are they rip-offs? -- with the "Rear Window" connections.) When the woman turns up alive, Claire has to figure out who the ghost is, then.

The film's first half builds up some real suspense -- almost unbearable, at times, as creepy things start happening and we just KNOW there's going to be a ghost popping up any moment. It also blends in some nice gallows humor when Claire and her friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) hold a Ouija Board-assisted seance to summon the ghost, not to mention Claire obsessing over the not-dead neighbor wife. Claire's visits to a psychiatrist are wryly humorous, too, proving Pfeiffer to be a worthy actress for an intelligent thriller.

Unfortunately, the film's second half regresses into a standard woman-in-peril movie, and Pfeiffer, good as she is, has no choice but to run around, scream, tiptoe past supposedly (but of course not quite) dead people, and everything else you've seen a thousand times before. Truly a waste of good talent.

And speaking of wastes, let's talk about Harrison Ford. The film wins points for casting him against type -- an adulterer who may have dark secrets -- and to be honest, I take perverse delight in seeing such a quintissential Good Guy playing a more-or-less bad guy. The problem is, he's only given a few scenes in which to show that side of himself, and it doesn't come across very well -- probably because it's only a few scenes. We need time to work up to the idea of a bad Harrison Ford, and by the time we've settled into it, the movie's over.

Zemeckis has been around horror movies enough to know what makes them scary. But it would seem he's only learned the little tricks, without learning the substance behind them -- like a magician who, sure enough, can make the right card turn up at the top of the deck, but doesn't know about the showmanship that has to surround such a trick to make it entertaining.

Here's a standard scary-movie device you've certainly seen before: The camera is on a character, who turns to look at something somewhere else. The camera follows her as she moves. When she and the camera move back again, something has changed -- a person has appeared in the doorway, or whatever. And we jump, because we, like the character, remembered the room looking a certain way, and when we come back to it, we expect nothing to be different. It's an effective jump-inducer, used once or twice in a movie.

"What Lies Beneath" uses this technique at least a dozen times. By the end, it literally becomes ridiculous. When you show us a woman walking down the stairs BACKWARDS, the camera trained on her feet, we KNOW a hand is going to reach up suddenly and grab her ankle. We also know it's going to happen really fast, and be accompanied by a loud shriek of music, practically forcing us to scream. It's a cheap trick, and it's way too overused in this movie. Didn't Zemeckis learn anything else?

Yes, he did. He watched "Psycho" a few times. The connections are too many to be coincidental: a main character named Norman, an overhead shot of Norman carrying someone up the stairs, mirrors in almost every scene, a woman stumbling out of a tub and pulling the shower curtain down with her -- what's the deal here? The film bears no resemblance, in plot or theme (or quality, to be catty), to "Psycho," so why borrow from it? Especially when what he DIDN'T borrow is "Psycho's" great tension and delicious eeriness.

I like the idea of Ford and Pfeiffer playing a married couple, and they do it very well for a while, before things turn crazy. Then Pfeiffer turns into a "Scream" victim, and Ford is just a big stupid lump.

"What Lies Beneath" has some fine moments. A scene in which Claire is temporarily possessed by the spirit of the dead woman is hysterically weird, and there really are some scenes of true, honest, palpable tension. But they are simply outnumbered by the manipulative "jump" moments that reveal the filmmaker's unwillingness to try anything new.

You'll jump during the movie. If you're a woman, you'll scream. (This has been field-tested: I watched the audience I was with at the screening.) For cheap thrills with absolutely no substance, it's a fine film. But fans of terror and suspense have seen it all before, and better.

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originally posted: 07/07/03 12:43:33
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell a routine ghost flick 3 stars
3/23/11 Nancy the movie did its job, scare the shit out of me. great movie. 4 stars
5/08/09 Samantha Pruitt very suspenseful, i like the story 4 stars
8/13/08 Brenda I think the biggest problem was Harris Ford was the bad guy. He didn't pull it off 2 stars
5/15/08 cinderella Great film with wonderful acting from Pfeiffer! 5 stars
12/15/06 R.W.Welch Hokey ending. Otherwise, not a bad suspense flick. 3 stars
8/14/06 Sharon didnt get half of it untill I watched it four times this movie is shitty 2 stars
8/05/06 nicolecrom2678 scared the crap out of me!! Great film! 5 stars
1/12/05 Tom Benton Well-done thriller, faintly reminescent of one of Hitchcock's late works. 4 stars
11/17/04 Daragh Michelle Pfieffer is amazing 4 stars
8/19/04 courtney scared the fricking shit out of me a hve to see for thrill seekers 4 stars
6/03/04 Angel Scary, sexy and very, very damp. Beautiful movie. 4 stars
4/19/04 Nevz More like artificially made. Boring! 3 stars
4/11/04 valerie hart this was a good film not like all the other horror movies.(NOT REALLY A TEEN MOVIE) 4 stars
3/08/04 Vince I enjoyed that one 4 stars
1/08/04 A F Oh yeah this was a movie. 2 stars
9/09/03 Laura Stuart James Remar MADE this movie!!!!! 5 stars
7/24/03 Kit Good thriller...better than a stupid slasher film any day 4 stars
7/18/03 Chris It's not only how scary it is but how it scares you. Artfully made, directed, and acted. 4 stars
6/14/03 Alice Great Thriller, Good one ! 5 stars
4/22/03 Jenny Tullwartz Pfeiffer her usual portrait of mediocrity; Ford would better be left typecast as a hero. 3 stars
4/09/03 JL this movie kicked ass!! 5 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby Flawed but pretty suspenseful when needed. Ludicrous ending, though. 3 stars
12/28/02 Rayna Kuzio I love a good ghost film... 4 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Obvious horror dressed up with money 3 stars
9/24/02 I Can't Swim Belongs on USA Network w/Tim Matheson & Sally Kirkland 1 stars
9/10/02 Ashley Stinson Hitchcock had a great influence on this film. 5 stars
9/09/02 Ben Wasden What Lies Beneath made me jump and I enjoyed it much more than the Sixth Sense. 5 stars
7/20/02 ! Unpredictable, good film 4 stars
7/12/02 KMG Moves slower than a constipated turd 3 stars
4/23/02 Danielle Ophelia Not a bone-crushing fall, but definitely a slight stumble. 3 stars
4/14/02 Shrike Interesting, but on a middle level 3 stars
4/04/02 cat really scary! I never guessed the ending...for once. 5 stars
3/14/02 Valerie Cameron Harrison Ford demonstrates that some performers are better left typecast. 3 stars
2/05/02 femmemina and u thought it's left me with mouth agape 4 stars
1/17/02 David A. Really great ghost story--spooky, suspensful, and intelligent. Aquatic effect was original. 5 stars
1/13/02 Andrew Carden Other Then Zemeckis's Direction, This Movie Falls Apart Instantly. 2 stars
1/13/02 breeze4sd great film 5 stars
12/01/01 Mark Conway Total utter pish, fell asleep twice while watching it, predictable plot. 1 stars
11/27/01 sdfr Two leads' Hollywood star profile kinda ruins this one. Fitfully interesting only. 3 stars
10/09/01 Mark Conway this was a crap movie, with no scares at all. 2 stars
9/07/01 Gary Pfieffer is excellent, the direction and cinematography are great, but an overall letdown. 3 stars
9/03/01 Butterbean I've always wanted to see Pfeiffer and Ford together. I guess this film will have to do. 3 stars
8/31/01 Bada Bing Crosby I must have seen the shitty version-movie is so awful I can't believe it 1 stars
8/31/01 Hooker with a Penis A cool movie, kinda Hitchcockian in overall style... Therefore good. 4 stars
8/08/01 Mr. Hat Really suspenseful and heart-pounding. Like a revised "Fatal Attraction." 4 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk Some of it kicked ass, most of it sucked ass...I'll go average. 3 stars
5/25/01 I love movies imagine this movie without the big name actors - they'd only show it on TV 3 stars
4/25/01 TigerDream Too slow, too predictable, and not very scary at all 2 stars
4/21/01 Monday Morning HF actually tries some acting. That's worth a point. Otherwise, a SLOW movie. 3 stars
4/18/01 Robbo OK But dont believe the hype its just not scary! 3 stars
4/09/01 ChErRyRiPe Very good, a bit slow but the end was great! 4 stars
3/09/01 The Evil Penguin scarier than Poltergeist 5 stars
3/08/01 Sanja I didn't expect this. 4 stars
3/08/01 Sanja I didn't expect this. 5 stars
2/16/01 Del R This could be shown on the lifetime network "Men bad, Women good" 4 stars
2/13/01 CJ O' Callaghan What the fuck is wrong with u'r reviewers!?- this is a great horror film- scary as hell ! 5 stars
2/09/01 DREDD ending is too typical and overplayed 3 stars
2/06/01 John Lyons First horror movie I've been excited about in a long time! 5 stars
2/02/01 The Bomb 69 very slow the first half, picked up somewhat but the ending was drawn out 3 stars
2/01/01 Dan Waldman Suspicion + Vertigo+Rear Window +Diabolique 4 stars
1/11/01 Matt69 All style no substance. Ford and Pfieffer keep it from sucking ass 2 stars
12/31/00 Mic Shooting quite good, writing quite bad (examples of both: the ending) 3 stars
12/17/00 Connoisseur it's all cliche... but well done! 4 stars
12/14/00 Kook Cliche. 2 stars
12/14/00 Tom Though a little slow, the ending is climactic, and a great new role for Ford. Great Film! 5 stars
12/03/00 scott wahls full of surprises but moved a little slow, not for those with ADD 4 stars
11/22/00 Ken Sherwood Brilliant, Gripping 5 stars
11/19/00 viking "The Sixth Sense" meets "Psycho" 3 stars
11/17/00 Beck I don't usually scare easily but this made me jump and kept me on the edge of my seat! 4 stars
11/11/00 Matthew Bartley Dull in places but very scary in others 4 stars
11/11/00 C.Chew it's not really that fantastic, but yet not that bad either. so it's up to u to decide! 3 stars
10/25/00 YOUR Movie Expert The Sixth Sense rip-offs have started, this one's slow and has a terrible ending. 1 stars
10/24/00 Gray Stupid score and crappy ending but brilliantly made and does have its shocks. 4 stars
10/05/00 Jackie What Lies Beneath is AWESOME!! I think this movie made me jump about ten times. Great movie 5 stars
9/19/00 Tim A good movie, but there should be a 2 minute warning so you can leave before the ending 4 stars
9/17/00 Leena Varkey Only the cast is good!! 3 stars
9/08/00 Tdis72 Very good movie. Michelle and Harrison does a good job in this shocking thriller. 5 stars
8/09/00 Bueller I was expecting something very Hitchcockian. I was entertained, but seriously disappointed. 3 stars
8/08/00 chris I thought it was cool but who ever wrote it should go back to comic books. 4 stars
8/02/00 IBDN Good until the ending 4 stars
8/01/00 PJ Trish, I too have never screamed ever, but I yelled out" OH God"! I got scared, great movie 5 stars
7/31/00 Fenris Harrison Ford makes it worth the money! 5 stars
7/31/00 Philm Phreak zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz 2 stars
7/30/00 my2cents this film was extremely poor 1 stars
7/27/00 extar-bags Good; in the hitchcock style. Worth paying for, even! 4 stars
7/27/00 Eric Hodel Lots of good twists, nearly got my arm ripped off 4 stars
7/26/00 Alexandra the suspense nearly slaughtered me. 5 stars
7/25/00 Krystal Great Movie! 5 stars
7/25/00 Vesse Best movie I've seen all summer!!! 5 stars
7/25/00 Trish Edwards I actually screamed at one point - I NEVER do that! 5 stars
7/24/00 Poetcdh Totally Predictable "surprises" 2 stars
7/22/00 Matt Thiel Left me with a bad taste in my mouth that poisons the rest of the film. 2 stars
7/22/00 Al Hitchcock Loved this film!!! 5 stars
7/22/00 Ginger it scared the shit out of me 5 stars
7/22/00 Rue the Whirl too many tired "scare" tactics, but otherwise engaging enough to keep your attention 4 stars
7/14/00 **~**Persnickety**~** this movie is fucking great, the ending totally took me by surprise! harrison rules! 5 stars
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  02-Nov-2000 (M)

Directed by
  Robert Zemeckis

Written by
  Clark Gregg

  Harrison Ford
  Michelle Pfeiffer
  Wendy Crewson
  James Remar
  Joe Morton
  Miranda Otto

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