Review: What Lies Beneath (2000)

Director: Robert Zemeckis | 130 minutes | drama, horror, thriller | Actors: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, Joe Morton, James Remar, Miranda Otto, Amber Valletta, Katharine Towne, Victoria Bidewell, Eliott Goretsky, Ray Baker, Wendy Crewson, Sloane Shelton, Tom Dahlgren, Jayson Argento.

“I still think people will find out that I don’t have that much talent. I’m really not very good “. says a modest Michelle Pfeiffer (1958). The actress may think otherwise, her three Oscar nominations (for “Dangerous Liaisons” from 1988, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” from 1989 and “Love Field” from 1992) claim the opposite. Pfeiffer started out as a journalism student but soon became addicted to the stage. It would take until the mid-1980s for the beautiful blonde to become a star (she forced her breakthrough with “Scarface” from 1983) and showed that she was more than just a pretty picture. In the eighties and nineties she showed herself to be extremely versatile and could take on both comedic and dramatic roles. She didn’t even turn her hand for an action movie (“Batman Returns,” 1992). With “What Lies Beneath” she also shows that she can handle a thriller very well.

Pfeiffer stars alongside Harrison Ford in this Robert Zemeckis-directed thriller. Norman (Harisson Ford) and Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) have been a couple for years. He is a scientist who is far too busy with his work and therefore has little time left for his wife Claire. Their relationship has its ups and downs, but the air seems cleared for the time being – after he went through the dust after a few slips. When their daughter leaves home to study and Norman is often away from work for work, Claire is left alone in the oversized house. Almost immediately she does not feel comfortable. Strange things happen in the house: doors close by themselves, lights go on or off and she hears noises that she cannot place. Plus, something serious seems to be going on with their neighbors. Curious Claire tries to subdue her fears and decides to investigate. Robert Zemeckis makes an albeit superficial yet exciting ode to Alfred Hitchcock with “What Lies Beneath”. Various scenes refer to highlights from the master of suspence’s oeuvre. There are references to “Rear Window” (1954), “Vertigo” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960). The tension build-up is one from the book, but still has plenty of surprising plot twists and fright effects. The first part of the film passes by the viewer quite slowly, but especially in the second part of the film a high-quality thriller unfolds. The screenplay has a number of double meanings, which also reinforce the power of the film. Add to this the acting qualities of Harrison Ford and especially Michelle Pfeiffer and an entertaining evening is guaranteed. You take the lack of originality for granted.

Zemeckis had a fast and big success in America. And it must be said that apart from a few minor flaws, he has made a successful paranormal thriller. As in Hitchcock’s films, there is an important place for atmosphere and soundtrack. With a tribute to a great director you always run a risk. The dividing line between homage and stealing is often thin and it depends on the choice of the director to what extent this gets the upper hand. Zemeckis has “borrowed” elements from a number of Hitchcock films and has given them a contemporary look. He certainly does not do that badly. But he could have taken a bit more risk, towards the end for example. That would have given the film a little more cachet and “own face”.

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