WHAT LIES BENEATH
What Lies Beneath is an old-fashioned ghost story it is a film that could easily have been made sixty years ago. Its unfoldings are all signposted in obvious ways speeches about the point on the bridge that the cellphone cuts out, little vignettes that pointedly note how the paralysing drug will work on any mammal for 15 minutes. In fact, you can fairly much work out when the film is setting something up for later on as this is usually the time the script stands still for a seemingly irrelevant piece of exposition. The same script which is almost a ghost story version of Fatal Attraction (1987) could have functioned as a routine made-for-tv melodrama had it not instead gone the A-budget, A-list stars, widescreen treatment under Robert Zemeckis. Like most made-for-tv ghost stories, it confines its ghost story within a banal upper-class setting one where Michelle Pfeiffers greatest problems in life are empty nest syndrome after her daughter goes to college and regret over giving up her career as a cellist for marriage. Pfeiffer plays at her most gaunt and neurotic throughout and is good in the part. Although, the one scene where she is possessed by the ghost and turns into a sultry sexual aggressor seems so out of place in this mannered, upper-class ghost story that it could have strayed in from another film altogether.
While routine on the story level, it is Robert Zemeckiss approach that makes the film work. Zemeckis displays a Hitchcockian mastery of edgy suspense. He uses all the jumps and tricks in the book people and dogs entering unexpectedly or when ones attention is directed the other way, loud noises with cellphones ringing and music unexpectedly coming on, doors shutting of their own accord, eerie reflections in mirrors and bathwater and the like but in a way that makes it feel like nobody has used such tactics before. The film is relentlessly suspenseful and Zemeckis succeeds in keeping the audience entirely on edge without let up right until the end expecting that something could jump out of the frame at any moment. The last fifteen minutes of the film with a paralysed Michelle Pfeiffer lying in a bathtub that is slowly filling up over her head is one of the most intensely gruelling suspense sequences in recent memory.
Robert Zemeckis is such a technically exacting director that he had two entire houses built from scratch on the lakeside of a Vermont national park. The care shows What Lies Beneath loses a great deal in its moves from widescreen to video release. In a bigscreen multiplex theatre, it is two hours of seat-edge entertainment.
Robert Zemeckiss other films are:- Back to the Future (1985), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Death Becomes Her (1992), Forrest Gump (1994), Contact (1997), Cast Away (2000), The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007), A Christmas Carol (2009), Flight (2012), The Walk (2015) and Allied (2016). Zemeckis has also produced a large number of other genre films including the Tales from the Crypt (1989-96) cable tv horror anthology series, the two film spinoffs Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight (1995) and Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood (1996), Peter Jacksons The Frighteners (1996), the motion-capture animated Monster House (2006) and Mars Needs Moms (2011), and Real Steel (2011). Zemeckis is also a producing partner in Dark Castle Entertainment, which have made a number of horror films including House on Haunted Hill (1999), Thir13een Ghosts (2001), Ghost Ship (2002), Gothika (2003), House of Wax and The Reaping (2007).