In a recent issue of The New Yorker, resident TV critic, Nancy Franklin, offered up a casting suggestion to the makers of CBS’ “Survivor.” “If CBS really wanted to insure that people in their teens and early twenties would watch ‘Survivor,'” she pointed out, “it should have put a few baby boomers on the island, so that kids could have the pleasure of seeing their parents get kicked off.” Clearly, in the tightly-woven, frequently scream-inducing, “What Lies Beneath,” director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) took the sentiment to heart as he set out to discover what happens when the endive and brie-eating baby boomer set get picked off a la Hitchcock, and needless to say, it’s some scary fun to watch.
The story takes place somewhere between Jamie Lee Curtis’ Halloween and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella, The Yellow Wallpaper. Rotating primarily around a New England wife and mother, Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer), the movie is at its core about a woman who gives up her career (playing the cello) to raise her children (a daughter). Her husband, Nelson Spencer (Harrison Ford), on the other hand, was able to pursue his fabulous professorial career, consequently garnering as much esteem as Claire does boredom. When their daughter, at the movie’s start, heads off for college, Claire’s got a hell of a lot of time on her hands and a sack of neurotic baggage packed to boot.
So, when spooky things starting happening to Claire around the lake-situated house she’s frequently left alone in, everyone else finds it hard to believe Claire’s not just a little stir-crazy. With doors opening when they’re not supposed to and strange messages appearing on computer screens, Claire gets nothing but gaslighted, primarily by Nelson, and even the audience is left wondering if we’re watching another chick with PMS or a horror flick. Eventually, as it turns out (and as it is already made clear in the movie’s trailers), bad boy Nelson has also been out putting the sausage in someone else’s honeypot, and the honey pot (Amber Valletta) has managed to come back from the rot to scare the pants off everyone involved in her post-Nelson affair disappearance.
The first half of the movie builds slowly, and forces one to tolerate some–as it turns out later intentionally–superficially goody-two-shoes personas, but things start cookin’ in What Lies Beneath’s second-half. An amazingly filmed tub-scene, a series of how-the-hell-did-they-do-that shots, and the full-flip flop of both lead actors sent me screaming out-loud and loud a total of three times, and I can’t remember the last time I screamed in a movie theater. Zemeckis is to be commended for bringing back the now rare-breed genre of sophisticated horror for those looking this summer not for “Scary Movie,” but simply a scary movie.