Film Scouts Reviews

"What Lies Beneath"

by Andréa C. Basora

Director Robert Zemeckis has clearly never heard the saying "less is more." In his new film, "What Lies Beneath," the director of "Death Becomes Her" and "Forrest Gump" (CK) piles on more horror/thriller cliches than all the "Scream" movies combined. Yet, for all its excesses and predictability, "What Lies Beneath" manages to be genuinely scary. It's just one of those marvels of the cinema: you've seen the cat jump out of the closet a hundred times, but the hundred-and-first time, you still leap out of your seat.

No, the problem with "What Lies Beneath" is not with its thrill quotient, but that it has no idea what it wants to be. It is as if Zemeckis had optioned the scripts for three films and decided to save time by simply doing them all at once. The first half of the film is part paranoid fantasy-think "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Stepford Wives"--and part haunted house movie, a combination that works remarkably well. Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a fragile housewife suffering from empty nest syndrome. Her only daughter has left for college, her husband (Harrison Ford) is a driven scientist whose life revolves around his work, and she is left to rattle around the house alone. Sure, she tends to the garden and leaves gift baskets for the neighbors, but most of her time is spent spooking herself by imagining that that same neighbor has killed his wife. There is a little "Rear Window" action as she spies on the supposed villain, but it all proves to be a ridiculous red herring that provides some thrills, but has absolutely nothing to do with the story. What is less ridiculous-ironically-is that strange things start happening around the house: doors open and close, stereos and computers turn on and off by themselves, and, finally, a ghostly woman appears reflected in the bathwater. Who is she? Well, that will be disclosed in the second half of the film, which is a much less successful marriage of "Fatal Attraction" and a psycho-killer movie.

"What Lies Beneath" works best when Zemeckis piles on the eerie atmosphere: the beautiful, but achingly empty house on the lake, the steam-filled bathroom-a horror staple, but nonetheless used to terrifying effect-a lonely pier. He almost does for lakefront properties what "Rosemary's Baby" did for Manhattan apartments. But, then, the film degenerates into a typical killer-who-won't-die scenario, and all the delicate strangeness is lost. By the end, there's no denying you have been mightily entertained, but you may also leave the theater feeling shamelessly manipulated and more than a little used.

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