Published Jul 01, 2000Let me get this out of the way immediately: the hotly anticipated new Robert Zemeckis thriller, What Lies Beneath, is a dud-firecracker of a movie. It promises so much and yet delivers only a parade of gothic horror cliches punctuated at the end by a "plot twist" that barely causes a ripple. It's the kind of movie that disappoints your expectations so consistently, it makes you mad to have invested your energy in wanting to be scared.
Most of it takes place at the lakeside home shared by Norman and Claire Spencer (Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer), where a ghostly presence seems to be manifesting itself. This is one of those hoary old movies in which a hysterical female (Pfeiffer) tries to convince her husband of the paranormal events she's experiencing, and he pats her on the head, making vague insinuations about her over-active imagination. This goes on for way more than half the movie, and only some of the monkeyshines are at all effective, like when Clare sees a barely visible apparition of a woman's face reflected in the murky lake. This gets old pretty fast (that reflected face keeps showing up in the tub water whenever anybody is in the bathroom), and although Zemeckis has great technical finesse in executing the intended scares, he's totally stiff and mechanical about trying to goose the audience into jumping out of their seats. Basically, about 15 minutes into the proceedings you figure out that whenever there's a suspicious silence, or whenever Michelle Pfeiffer is framed slightly off-centre, something is going to loudly fall over (usually a picture frame), or a door will creak open, or Ford will sneak up behind her (I guess he always tip-toes into the room).
On top of this, there's all kinds of overly deliberate set-up and exposition about their troubled history (Claire survived a car crash, Norman lives in the shadow of his dead father), as well as a red-herring subplot. Not only is this digression a bald-faced rip-off of Rear Window, but it accomplishes nothing except to distract the audience from the lame, aforementioned plot twist. I guess I can't give away much more of the story, but big deal - it's not much worth talking about. Zemeckis and his crew wasted a lot of dark, foreboding atmosphere on some very standard material. His actors don't help much either. Pfeiffer tries to heat things up at times, but she's still too much in love with her own "movie-star poise" for the audience to fully identify with her. Ford has a similar problem - when the hell did he start taking himself so seriously? At this point I don't think there's any hope that he's ever going to wipe that furrowed, gloomy-gus expression off his face.