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WHAT LIES BENEATH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton, James Remar, Wendy Crewson
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: Director Commentary, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 130 Minutes
Release Date: January 30, 2001

Film ***

Last year was a big year for director Robert Zemeckis. He had two films released in 2000, and both films ended being two of the yearís biggest box office hits. The movies were the survivor adventure Cast Away and the suspense thriller What Lies Beneath. The production for Cast Away called for a year-long break so that actor Tom Hanks could successfully slender himself to make his character more believable. During this break from shooting that film, Zemeckis didnít hesitate to shoot this movie. The director pulled off a similar task that Barry Levinson did a few years back, when he successfully filmed Wag the Dog in between filming his hard to make sci-fi thriller Sphere.

What Lies Beneath is a very creepy, somewhat effective thriller that works primarily on the strength of the actors involved. How often do you get to see such high talent as Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer appear in a contemporary horror film? Not very often. Ford himself said in numerous interviews that he doesnít primarily enjoy horror movies, but he read this script, and was thoroughly impressed. As for Michelle Pfeiffer, this film may have successfully put her back on Hollywoodís A list after a long string of disappointments, such as A Thousand Acres and The Deep End of the Ocean. Both actors deliver their strongest best in this movie, which if lesser actors were involved the film may have gone sour.

Ford and Pfeiffer play Norman and Claire Spencer, a happily married couple who have just recently renovated an old lake house, once the residence of Normanís family. Norman is a professor of science, and Claire is a housewife. After they send their daughter off to college, the couple seem to have embarked on some quality, free-of-distraction living. At least thatís what Claire thinks. Soon enough, when she frequently encounters elements of being severely haunted in the house while Norman is away at work. All around her, numerous objects appear to fall and break, the bathtub seems to have a mind of its own, and most off all, Claire begins to suspect that there has been some foul play in her arguing neighbors home. Once she confronts Norman about her suspicions, he immediately advises her to see a psychiatrist (Joe Morton), but it doesnít help a bit. Then one day, Claire comes across another picture frame that has fallen and broken, only it contains evidence that Norman was more than an acquaintance with a female student, named Madison Elizabeth Frank, who went missing more than a year ago and was possibly murdered. Claire immediately declares that she is very much deceased, because she thinks it is her ghost that is haunting the house.

If it seems as if Iíve spoiled much of the movie, believe me, I havenít spoiled enough. The last forty-five minutes of What Lies Beneath present some very surprising twists and turns. The directing of Robert Zemeckis is a triumph. He mostly creates suspense by using utter silence in his scenes. He is a pro at working the camera, and there are some very startling moments that are startling because of how Zemeckis has staged the scenes and executed them. Itís a film that I think even Brian De Palma would be proud of. As I mentioned before, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer are quite superb in their roles. Ford, having recently come off back-to-back disappointments with Six Days, Seven Nights and the dubiously awful Random Hearts, returns to form in this film, while Pfeiffer delivers one of her best performances ever. I bought her as a truly frightened woman whoís determined to get to the bottom of what is causing the house she lives in to be haunted.

Thatís not to say that What Lies Beneath is entirely original. Weíve seen countless haunted house tales in such films as The Amityville Horror and The Haunting, but is a very well produced movie, with a skillful director behind the camera, and some knockout scenery that makes a perfect horror movie setting. It doesnít rank with the greatness of Zemeckisí other films, like Forrest Gump, Contact, and Back to the Future, but itís good entertainment nonetheless. This is one for a good late night scare.

Video **1/2

Dreamworks has long been one of the best DVD distributors, with their dedication to perfected transfers and extras. The video job on What Lies Beneath was not as impressive as I anticipated. In this anamorphically enhanced presentation, there seem to be lots of grain popping up here and there, most notably even in very dark shots, which I was surprised to discover. On the other hand, when there wasnít grain, the picture was as sharp as sharp can get.

Audio ****

Dreamworks doesnít falter a single bit in the audio department. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers nice use of you surround sound system, with spooky sounds coming out all around, which seem to come through on every speaker, enhancing the frightfully enjoyment of the movie. Also featured is a DTS track, which Iím sure is even more of a scary blast.

Features **1/2

If the video department was a letdown, is not as disappointing as the level of extras on this disc. There are only three primary features, which include a commentary by Robert Zemeckis, an HBO First Look special about the making of the movie, and a theatrical trailer. For a studio like Dreamworks, one would simply expect more extras on their releases, especially this one, which was one of the biggest hits to date.

Summary:

What Lies Beneath is a mostly-professionally made suspense thriller, with some big talent involved that helps it to make it more entertaining than your-run-of-the-mill horror movie. It offers plentiful scares, and some frightfully nice twists to the mix. You are likely to be more than surprised by the climax of the movie, too!