Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Decent paranormal mystery.
Sometimes, subgenres are actually really important. It’s easy to guess what a subgenre would be from the main one. Like an action with adventure, or in this case, a horror with a mystery. All of the trailers and posters seem to point to What Lies Beneath as being a big suspenseful horror flick, but in all honesty, it’s not really horror at all. What makes it a “horror” is the overall idea of a haunted house, but the movie is trying less to scare you than it is trying to solve a cold whodunit case.
After sending their grown-up daughter off to college, Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Norman (Harrison Ford) reclaim their life together. However, after Claire notices an apparent domestic despite between their new neighbors, she begins to postulate a theory that her neighbor Mary (Miranda Otto) was murdered and haunts her house, with a strange fascination with Claire’s bathtub. When her neighbor shows up alive and well, Claire begins to ponder if she is instead going insane. Of course she isn’t, that would make the movie terrible, and instead the facts of the case begin to become rapidly apparent.
I know I mentioned that this isn’t a horror, but there are aspects to this being a horror film, just not as much as there should be in order to be considered a full-out horror film. As it is, it’s nice to see a change of pace with an older couple involved in a scary story. All of those teenager slasher films really start to get tiring. This film is more or less a really decent paranormal mystery with some nice suspense. Around the halfway point, the movie does begin to get predictable, which is a shame, because it had some really good promise. That being said, after the film becomes predictable, it is still executed in a satisfactory way. In other words, you don’t mind this being foreseeable as much as you would another predictable film.
Half of the reason that you don’t mind the predictability is because the movie looks really nice. The entire movie has that spooky and foggy look, although most of that is from the steam of the bathtub. What Lies Beneath has a strong focus on water, so lots of shots of lakes, ponds, bathwater, steam, fog, rain, you name it. Having a theme helps a film refocus on what they are going for, so no matter how predictable it is, it retains that vibe, and the visuals are always quite stunning in this film.
What’s interesting to point out is that the beginning of this film may remind you of some really great mystery films such as Rear Window or Disturbia with a paranormal twist. In my opinion, the film should have had a little more focus on that aspect. Yes, that has been done before, but the paranormal twist helped change it up a lot. They really don’t have enough films like Rear Window, and I think a lady in the lead would have done amazing. James Remar would have been a terrific murderous husband that almost gets away with murder. Instead, the movie takes a slightly different path when Claire finds out he didn’t kill his wife, and while it’s not what I would have liked, they still did a decent job with what they had.
The acting coming from Pfeiffer and Ford are both really great, and the chemistry is near perfection. Again, I wish there was more participation from more people in the film, but as it is, I think they did alright. Overall, What Lies Beneath had some amazing promise and a great initial premise, but its story progression turned predictable and slightly disappointing. However, it still looked great and was led by two A-class actors that again prove their acting abilities.