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WHAT LIES BENEATH

Directed by Robert Zemeckis (2000, Dreamworks)
Starring Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Diana Scarwid

A woman is possessed by the ghost of a girl who wants her to do one more thing regarding her husband.

 

 

4 stars

August 28th, 2000 in the Theatre  
   

Man, was I ever spooked!  Although there were story elements that were questionable, this movie was so effectively made that I just had to overlook them.  The best spooky movie I've seen since The Sixth Sense

The movie had so many twists, digging itself in deeper and deeper, that I wondered how it would get out of the trouble it had created.  And it did so wonderfully.  It also managed to avoid scary movie clichés, too, in just about every instant.  I was sure that the hand would go out and grab her leg when she walked by, but fortunately, the movie-makers had other plans. 

I am a big fan of Harrison Ford.  He has played some strange roles lately, Random Hearts being one of them (I thought it was totally boring and uninteresting, a bad combination).  But I thought his role here was almost perfectly played.  He started out as the loving husband, and was able to play the puzzled role very effectively right up until the end.  His cool demeanor when he was drowning his wife was downright chilling. 

I am not a big fan of Michelle Pfeiffer, though she has done some good roles, too.  But here she excelled.  And I thought she was extremely sexy throughout, especially the scenes where she seduced her husband.  Too often, though, I saw Callista Flockhart in her expressions, which bothered me a bit. 

The plot is one of possession, or at least a visitation by the ghost.  The ghost of whom?  Well, it takes a while to figure that out, but the ghost figures out how to let her know. 

As first, she thinks the neighbor has killed his wife, because she sees the woman crying her heart out in terror, and the next day finds a shoe with blood on it, and sees the man carry what looks like a body bag into his trunk and speed off. 

She goes snooping, and even has a séance with her friend.  Finally, she accuses the neighbor, just as his very-much-alive wife comes up beside him.  This leads to a very funny joke that was in very poor taste, at a party later that week.  The neighbours are there, and the man reaches over and pretends to choke his wife, when they see her.  It was so, so funny, but I would hate to be neighbours with them after that!

Unfortunately, the neighbours disappear after that, as the plot moves away from them.  She discovers that the person who is haunting her is a young woman, who she caught having sex with her husband.  She had blanked the memory out, but now she finds out that her husband found the girl dead in their living room after she threatened his life.  He didn't know what to do, so he rolled her car into the river. 

He promises that they can get around the stupid things that he did in the last year, if she can forgive him.  She sleeps at a friend's house that night, and returns to find him nearly unconscious in the bathtub, with the hair dryer lying in the water, and the circuit breaker out. 

Through a thoroughly tense scene, she discovers that he staged it, and he lied both when he said the girl had died in their living room, and when he pretended to call the police to dredge the body up.  He paralyzes her with a special drug (which they conveniently showed at the beginning of the movie, in his lab), and calmly places her in the bathtub and sets the water running. 

There he calmly explains to her how the girl threatened not his life, but more importantly, his job!  And through the movie, we get to see how obsessed he is about his job!  But the ghost helps her one last time, by giving him a vision of the dead and decomposed body when he looks at his drowning wife.  He knocks himself unconscious, and when the drug wears off, his wife escapes, with him in close pursuit. 

There follows the obligatory car scene, with the two of them struggling for control.  They end up driving off the pier, and the body of the girl floats up to meet them, making sure that he drowns, but his wife lives. 

Some of the things that I didn't like about this movie?  For one, I think it would have been spooky enough without the music spiking every time we are supposed to jump.  I really didn't think it was necessary.  A second was the disappearance of the neighbours as soon as they were not suspicious anymore.  And the third was the fact that their daughter never reappeared.  The daughter was there so that we would think she was suffering from separation anxiety when she left for college, instead of being haunted.  But it would have been great to see her return at the end of the movie to comfort her mother. 

The best parts?  There were lots of them.  The sexiest parts, which I mentioned above, occur at the beginning, and at the end of the movie.  The first one takes place in the bedroom, where they are sure that they can compete with their noisy neighbours.  The second was when she was possessed, and sits on the step to the office in nothing but a bathrobe, legs spread wide open, with the robe hanging loosely between them, and slightly open at the top.  No wonder he thought he was forgiven.  But the scene was creepy as well.

The movie did a great job at keeping the tension up.  The story was also genuine, as we thought their love for each other was.  It was also wonderfully misleading in so many places, but I wish it could have gone from false lead to false lead a little more subtly.

 
   

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