The seemingly idyllic marriage between Claire Spencer and professor husband Norman begins to fragment when she starts to believe there is a ghost inhabiting their house. As the supernatural occurrences grow in ferocity, it becomes apparent that this strange spirit is not only real, but intent on revealing a terrible secret... One which lies very close to home.
This wildly, but effectively, overwrought thriller - with added horror - arrives touting dazzling credentials: an idea by Steven Spielberg, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Under the weight of such a curtain call, the biggest surprise is, perhaps, that what emerges is no masterpiece, but a semi-sophisticated shocker, playfully homaging Hitchcock like a mechanical masterclass in doing ‘genre’. The first hour is great fun.
Slowburning and suggestive, the mystery builds from all directions, with supernatural pointers, strange keys, a neighbour’s wife (Otto) going mysteriously absent, and various hints of a troubled past implying a myriad possibilities. All of it punctuated by classic ‘Gotcha!’ moments and black humour.
Pfeiffer - who carries the movie - looks svelte and vulnerable, and through the slow-slow-quick rhythm nicely evokes the fraught air of a poor soul simultaneously having to question her own sanity and the existence of the paranormal. Ford, who for the most part seems to be taking a surprising back seat, veers deliciously off his well-beaten path - although, for all those lusting after Indy IV, he is starting to look worryingly weatherworn. What we have, then, is a partnership of solid-as-oak stars not even breaking sweat with the demands of their director. Zemeckis, meanwhile, is having a whale of a time playing Hitch: blondes are abused; bathtubs and plugholes given frequent close-ups; while his camera twists and turns with voyeuristic lust. However, after an hour, we’ve been beaten over the head with so many jumps and jolts that they start to verge on the silly. But the skilful use of the motifs of the genre - mirrors, bodybags, water, blood - border on genius. It’s such a shame his heart wasn’t as occupied as his head.
It’s in the midriff that the movie really sags. Domestic trauma takes over, events become talky and flat, while an encouraging red herring is abandoned far too early, and it seems that the much more enticing spooky stuff has just been forgotten. Nevertheless, it swings back round for the finale, a gripping, revelatory piece of artfully constructed schlock. Without giving too much away: a pick-up truck hitched to a yacht, a paralysis-inducing drug, a bathful of chilling water, a long-buried necklace and a decomposing corpse slot together with an almost unbearable sustained tension.
Yet it really doesn’t add up to all that much. What lies beneath this masterful display of audience manipulation is a mightily confused film attempting a slice of everything: tricksy murderous thriller, beyond-the-grave spook story and Sixth Sense-style horror for grown-ups. It’s an enjoyably giddy ride, certainly, but once you’re back from the edge of your seat, you realise most of the creaks and groans are from the decomposing script.
An enjoyably spooky thriller.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan
|What Lies Beneath|