What Lies Beneath
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Clark Gregg

Starring Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer


What Lies Beneath

Worried about your knowledge of scary movie techniques? Afraid you'll be left behind when they ask for someone to direct the next one? No problemo. Take the 2-hour "What Lies Beneath" course and learn everything you'll need to know. Music: heart-stopping. Doors that once were closed but now are open. Reflected faces in the bathtub water. Sudden power outages. Foggy steam rising from unused bathrooms. Framed photos that keep falling to the floor and breaking the glass. Mysterious neighbors who are there, then gone, then, suddenly, there again. Messages written on the bathroom mirror. Sudden music from the unattended CD player.

The operative word is sudden. Everything that happens in "What Lies Beneath" happens suddenly, so much so, and so often, that we're inured to its power long before director Robert Zemeckis thinks to try something else. Which he does, at about the 90-minute mark, when we've learned the identity of the villain and Zemeckis has nowhere further to go with his plot, but has evidently contracted to deliver a two-hour film. So the last half-hour of the film is the heroine-in-mortal-danger-from-the-villain riff that keeps escalating until -- but you already know that everything comes out all right.

Michelle Pfeiffer is Claire, the devoted wife of celebrated genetics professor Harrison Ford, faculty star at a college in Vermont. They live in a charming, renovated Victorian on the shore of a nearby lake. She's given up her career as a concert cellist (though from the brief glimpse we get of Pfeiffer playing I don't believe she was going very far). She has a daughter, whom they see off to college as the film opens, and which is the last we see of her in the movie.

But that's when the mysterioso events start taking place. Is Claire crazy? Just neurotic about her daughter leaving? Or is she maybe on to something? Aha! You guessed it! There really IS something going on, and it isn't pleasant. We can leave the plot there, and say simply that Pfeiffer and Ford throw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles, that the film is too long by thirty minutes, and that you film students will be busy noting every suspense technique you ever heard of as they appear in this movie.

Or, you could pick almost any Hitchcock film and see why the best filmmakers need only one or two little frissons to make us jump out of our skins. Or for another kind of suspense treat, try Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Diabolique," to see how to use a bathtub for suspense, or his "The Wages of Fear," in which he strung out one device -- the trucking of nitroglycerine over two hundred miles of bumpy dirt road -- into the greatest suspense film of them all.    

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