A Chilling Thriller
With no ghostbusters to call, Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) must solve a poltergeist case on her own in What Lies Beneath. When doors keep opening mysteriously and pictures start falling from shelves with no apparent rhyme or reason, she begins to suspect her house is haunted. Hubbie Norman (Harrison Ford), a professor and research scientist, is frequently away from home, and her daughter from a former marriage (Katherine Towne) just went off to college. That leaves Claire alone most of the time in a remodeled old house located beside a foreboding Vermont lake --- the perfect setting for this exquisite suspense thriller.
Still recovering psychologically from a year-old car accident, Claire also worries about a missing neighbor. She thinks the woman’s husband murdered her. When these suspicions prove groundless, Claire’s credibility plummets, especially in the eyes of her own spouse. Like the little boy who cried wolf too many times, she finds it impossible to persuade anyone there is a ghost slowly taking charge of her life. Who and why are the two questions Claire tries to answer at the beginning of her investigation. Later, she must also determine how her husband might be involved in the disappearance of a beautiful young woman.
Telling any more about the plot of this riveting film could spoil it for you. Sooooo --- just believe me when I say Pfeiffer (The Story of Us) has never been better. I forgot completely about her Hollywood stardom. She actually became Claire to me and drew me helplessly into her frightening world. When she peered over the neighbor’s fence to find out what was happening, her curiosity seemed so palpable it became urgent for me to know too. As she crept barefoot down hallways looking for the source of weird sights and sounds, I skulked along with her. During her terrifying bathtub ordeal, I could almost feel Claire’s paralyzing fear of drowning. Peiffer’s expressive eyes in that well-filmed scene pierced right through the celluloid and into my soul.
Playing an ambitious, patronizing husband, Ford takes on a role quite different from his Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and Jack Ryan portrayals. At his most convincing during the beginning of the film, he makes a terrific romantic partner for Pfeiffer. "You are so brilliant!" she teases him while making love. "Yep," he agrees facetiously, then adds, "Say that again --- and speak up." Because of Ford’s charisma and mature good looks, it’s easy to see why Claire fell in love with such a charming man. Still, this is Pfeiffer’s movie. Her performance outshines everyone else’s, even the ghost’s (Amber Valletta).
In classic suspense movies like Vertigo and Psycho, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock concentrated on psychological rather than supernatural dynamics. And yet, I can’t help thinking he would appreciate Robert Zemeckis’ (Forrest Gump) inspired direction of What Lies Beneath. I imagine him applauding the way Zemeckis combined long camera shots and realistic special effects in filming Clark Gregg’s intriguing screenplay. Would he complain about the use of heavy-handed background music to boost key scenes? Probably not. After all, it only makes things more intense.
WARNING: Remember how some people gave up showering after watching Psycho? What Lies Beneath might cause others to feel the same way about taking baths. That’s too bad, for those sponge-offs can be pretty scary themselves --- especially on those cold winter mornings.
(Released by DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for violence, terror, sensuality, and brief language.)