What Lies Beneath
A successful film is like a good recipe. Take popular actors with talent, add a director with a proven track record of hit films and stir in a writer that has come up with interesting stories and you should have a hit film. Even the best chefs in the world can have a bad day and their favorite recipe fall short. This is the case with What Lies Beneath. By all indications it should have been an excellent film. Instead we get a film that is hopelessly searching for a genre and tries out too many in its quest. Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the wife of a noted biology professor Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford). She enjoys a good life, a happy marriage and is kept busy restoring their lake front house. Slowly, strange things start happening. Doors move by themselves, the dog barks at an unseen threat and fleeting images of a young woman appear to Claire. Certain that her next door neighbor has murdered his wife Claire stakes out the rear window with binoculars (sound familiar?) If anyone is haunting this film it is Hitchcock for the blatant homage to his classic films. Of course Claires husband Norman dismisses her fears. Undaunted, Claire continues to investigate the strange occurrences only to uncover the murder of a young coed some years ago. She starts to see a shrink (Joe Morton) only to become more obsessed with her quest for what happened to this young woman. She pulls her best friend (Diana Scarwid) into the fray only to alienation of Norman. Towards the end the film changes from the horror/mystery genre and attempts to become a thriller. There is little to transition from one genre attempt to another and the movie is lessened because of it.
You cant fault the actors for the shortcomings of this film. They give it their all. Pfeiffer is very believable as the housewife forced to become a supernatural detective. She brings her talent to the film but there is too little to do with it. She allows the audience to see where the character is coming from, how the events of the past shape her view of the present unexplained events. Ford phoned in his part. This is a great disappointment to me since I have never fully enjoyed any film by this eclectic actor. His role as Norman is stunted and beneath the considerable talent of this man. Morton and Scarwid do add to the film with their performances but again, there is little to work with here.
The full blame has to go to the director, Robert Zemeckis. We all know he can do better. After all, this man brought us such excellence as Romancing the Stone, Forrest Gump, Contact and Back to the Future. He is capable of crafting a film that not only makes the story come alive but that becomes part of American culture. Here, he tries too hard to jam several genres into the same film. If Hitchcock had done this film he would have undoubtedly abandoned the supernatural forces at work in favor of darker but human origins for the events. Zemeckis seems forced to depend too much on hackneyed Hollywood horror movie ploys to tell the story. His best work has always come from truly human motivations. Look at Gump or Back to the Future, gripping stories of human expression. Here, the occult trappings of the film ruin what could have been a good story.
The DVD is well produced. The audio conforms to the new standard of DTS and Dolby 5.1 on the same disc. The use of the rear channels is not over done but rather adds to the realism of the setting. Excellent ambience is provided with a well-balanced sound track. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is clear and free of any compression defect. Extras include a commentary by the director, which came off as a bit pedantic. This film is good for an evening but you will guess the ending long before the last chapter.