Retro Review: What Lies Beneath

Can Hollywood ever recapture the brilliance and magic of Alfred Hitchcock? Well this flick comes damn close.

“What Lies Beneath” is a supernatural thriller that asks the question do our evil deeds come back to haunt us.

Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer play, Norman and Claire Spencer, a couple who are trying to get their lives back in order after couple unfortunate problems ricocheted through their marriage. Unbeknownst to either of them one of those problems has become a vengeance filled wraith that may become the final twig that snaps their marriage.

“What Lies Beneath” marks the return of Oscar winning film director Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump, Back to the Future) after a 3 year absence from the director’s chair. His last film was 1997’s Contact starring Jodie Foster. “Beneath” also marks his first of two films this year directed by Zemeckis. The other will be this December’s Castaway starring Tom Hanks.

Staying with the topic of director, I have to shout and cheer for Zemeckis’ effort in “Beneath”. He uses some camera angles I never could have dreamed of and he brilliantly uses the lack of movie score to accent most of the tension scenes. These two achievements make this thriller the best I have seen in a long time. It’s not often that I bite my nails, anticipate each scene to unravel and marvel at the art of film-making. This film is a great centerpiece to show Hollywood great movies can be achieved without all those special effects.

Pfeiffer is amazing as the struggling wife Claire Spencer. Her portrayal begins very subtle and as her mind unravels the mystery plaguing her character, the audience becomes more and more involved in her struggle. She literally breaks down right in front of us and we gasp. There are moments in the film that make us gasp for air as try to bow our heads away from the tension.

I loved how she played with her character’s depth during a lot of the tension scenes. Just with one look we could tell if she was holding it together or about to scream. Her complete portrayal and no holds barred it’s a role I hope Oscar remembers. There is one crucial scene I have never seen ever used in Hollywood and it will make you never look at bathtubs the same way again.

Ford is mostly absent for the first half of the film as he veers away from his self-destructing wife and concentrates on a critical project at work. Ford’s portrayal in the second half is some of his best work since “Mosquito Coast”.

This film will definitely be remembered in the Harrison Ford dossier.

Other than the two stars this film really never lets anyone else shine. The minor cast does show potential with Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton and James Remar. Another really weird casting was of supermodel Amber Valletta who plays the dead girl. This is the second time a supermodel has been used as a corpse. (The first I can recall was in “Batman & Robin” where supermodel Vendela played Mr. Freeze’s frozen wife.) It’s weird that victims are always gorgeous people.

I do know that if Hitchcock was alive today this would have been one of his projects. The script and story seem to blend scenes from a previous Hitchcock film “Rear Window” with the familiar story of the “Lady in the Lake”. Old Hitch’s spirit is alive and well in this project.

(4.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: July 20, 2000

3 thoughts on “Retro Review: What Lies Beneath

  1. Now I know why Harry Ford sticks to the same role over and over again — he can’t do a convincing bad guy. I totally did not buy him as a killer here, although the film itself was convincingly creepy and Michelle Pfeiffer was excellently cast.

  2. Nice post, I personally think the movies released this year are of better quality then last year. I CANT WAIT for toy story 3!

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