What Lies Beneath

on July 21, 2000 by Melissa Morrison
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   Like the most effective thrillers, "What Lies Beneath" takes its slow, creepy time setting up the chills in this domestic murder mystery/ghost story. An open door here, some shattered glass there--and the audience may need backrubs later from starting up in their seats so often. But then, like the worst of thrillers, the film loses much of its painstakingly earned goosebump stock with a tedious climax that runs like a horror movie's greatest hits.

   Claire (Pfeiffer) and Norman (Ford) Spencer are a J. Crew couple living amid Pottery Barn splendor in a "Martha Stewart Living" Vermont lakeside house. They're so perfect--and their marital banter is so superficial--that you begin to look forward to a poltergeist wreaking havoc with their catalogue-perfect bliss. Claire has just sent her daughter off to college when strange things start happening: A volatile couple has just moved next door, and the young wife disappears suddenly. Soon after that, the aforementioned doors start slamming shut on their own, etc. Pfeiffer skillfully portrays Claire as high-strung enough for outsiders to think she may be imagining things. Norman, a university scientist, thinks his wife just has too much time on her hands.

   If, in its first half, the film borrows elements of "Dial M For Murder," for the second, it segues into "The Shining," when the ghostly presence of a young woman makes itself at home in the Spencers' house. The otherworldly effects are used sparingly to good effect. Director Robert Zemeckis ("House on Haunted Hill") isn't so restrained with the more earthly side of the story, however. While the first hour of the film can be forgiven for its somewhat slow pace of chills, later rewarded by full-on thrills, "Beneath" goes flat in its final half-hour, which should have been exorcised of its clichés. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by Sarah Kernochan and Clark Gregg. Produced by Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis and Jack Rapke. A DreamWorks release. Thriller. Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, sensuality and brief language. Running time: 123 min

Tags: Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford, Clark Gregg, Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Thriller, college, earthly, superficial, poltergeist, mystery, Sarah Kernochan, Steve Starkey, DreamWorks
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