The Cinefessions crew loves sharing their opinions on films, but not every movie can get the attention it deserves with a full review. Enter the Cinefessions’ Capsule Reviews. These capsule reviews cover five of the most important aspects of a film, which allow the crew to deliver their opinions on any movie clearly, decisively, and with brevity. These are not our full thoughts on any film, just a highlighting of the major pros and/or cons.
Title: What Lies Beneath (2000)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Runtime: 130 minutes
Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford lead this suspense thriller, and they do the best that they can. The characters themselves, though, are completely mediocre. They’re not relatable, nor very likable. Pfeiffer’s character, Claire, is a rich housewife who seemingly has nothing better to do than stalk her neighbors, and Ford’s character, Norman, is never home enough to get to know that well. The worst part is that the beginning of the film feels forced from these two, and the relationship feels distant on screen, which is not done on purpose. The opening act is when the viewer is supposed to engage with this couple, and see that they’re a healthy, happily married duo in order for the rest of the film to work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, and the rest of the film follows suit.
Story & Script
What Lies Beneath doesn’t leave the viewer with any mystery to solve, which is one of its primary flaws. We meet this couple – Claire and Norman – on the day they are sending their only daughter off to college. Claire is visibly upset by this as the two were very close (we learn this thanks to some forced exposition from a friend who visits her later in the movie). Once she starts spending this time alone at home, she starts hearing noises, and paying more attention to the new neighbors, who happen to be a couple that fights a lot. If you think you know where the movie is going, you don’t, but not because the script is built in such an intelligent way that it smartly pulls the rug out from under us at the last second. Instead, it’s because the movie throws away one plot line from the first half of the film, and starts on something entirely different that the audience had no idea even existed until that point. This isn’t clever, but jarring, and not in a good way. The first half of this much-too-long movie is nearly pointless, and when the intrigue finally picks up, so do the long, drawn out scenes. These scenes are built to create tension, but instead put the viewer to sleep because its easy to see where each on is heading.
I love Robert Zemeckis. I have not seen all of his films, but I have watched a great deal of them, and What Lies Beneath proves that Zemeckis is not a horror director. The way Zemeckis attempts to create horror and suspense is about as amateur and juvenile as it gets. He uses cheap jump scares to try to get the viewer, but even these don’t work because anyone who has spent any time with the horror genre will easily be able to guess when they’re about to happen. I was calling them out before they happened, and was almost always right. Then there are the “is the killer really dead” scenes that we see so often. The problem with these, though, is that they are overlong, and tedious to sit through. They’re not suspenseful, just boring and slow. That said, I will admit that he got me with the bathtub scene at the end of the movie. It was much too long, sure, but I found myself holding my breath just like the character. One scene does not a movie make, though, and I am so glad this is as close to the horror genre Zemeckis ever traveled. Flight is a brilliant piece of drama. Back to the Future series is one of the greatest comedy trilogies of all-time. What Lies Beneath is a wasted effort from someone who clearly doesn’t “get” the horror genre.
Zemeckis did choose an excellent shooting location, right by the lake. It is a beautiful home. This is also a problem, though, as Claire tries to say throughout the film that the house is still in the process of being renovated. There are no signs of this throughout the entire film, and it feels like a tacked-on fact that doesn’t go anywhere. Same can be said for the fact that Claire is on her second marriage. Why this is important is never revealed, and just feels like more filler to make the movie longer than it needs to be.
I have no reason to watch this movie again.
“I think she’s starting to suspect something.”
This is a great moment inWhat Lies Beneath. There is only one other moment that I would consider great, and that is the bathtub scene toward the end of the film. Otherwise, this is a long, drawn-out drama that is trying much too hard to be a horror thriller, and it just isn’t worth your time.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.