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Review by - Matt Easterbrook

Ladies and gentlemen, before we begin I'd like to impress upon you a couple of taglines I've come up with regarding the film What Lies Beneath. I don't believe its current slogan, "He was the perfect husband until his one mistake followed them home," does it justice. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to come up with a couple of more suitable taglines for this movie. Ready? Here goes.

Number one: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom ..."

No? How's this: "I see dead supermodels!"

You don't approve? What about: "Don't give away the ending ... the trailer already did!"

Aha! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner (with apologies to the advertising campaigns of the classic movies Jaws, The Sixth Sense, and the original Psycho). For this is one of those movies that, if you've seen the trailer, you've basically seen the movie. Apparently the brilliant minds in the Dreamworks publicity department decided that it was in the film's better interest that they reveal the Big Twist in the What Lies Beneath trailer. So those who have seen the trailer (including myself, four or five times) will pretty much know what to expect and the experience won't be as enjoyable. For those who walk into the theater knowing as much about this movie as they do about midget Hungarian hula-hoopers, they'll be in for a gripping thrill ride with a couple of major twists and turns.

In a severe case of Double Jeopardy syndrome, the lead male gets more or less a supporting role but top billing. Who said sexism was dead? The real star of this movie is not Harrison Ford, but Michelle Pfeiffer. She plays Claire Spencer, a happily married housewife who has just seen her only daughter, Caitlin (Katharine Towne), off to college. Claire and her husband Norman (Ford), one of the nation's foremost scientists, are getting settled in their picturesque new home by a beautiful lake in Vermont.

Well, call it empty nest syndrome, call it menopause, call it what you want: soon Claire's running around the house spying on the next door neighbours the Feurs, Warren (James Remar) and Mary Ellen (Miranda Otto), and begins to believe that Warren may be trying to kill Mary Ellen. He suspicions heighten as soon as Mary disappears. She also starts noticing that things are getting a bit freaky around the house, to say the least. Doors open by themselves, pictures start tipping over, faces start appearing in the bathtub water, and the hydro bill plummets because Claire decides to start walking around in the dark. Norman thinks his wife's fallen off the deep end and sends her to a psychiatrist (Joe Morton), who tells her to get in touch with the spirit.

So with best friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) in tow, Claire picks up a big-ass Ouija board and tries to summon the dead. Nothing happens in that particular incident but the freaky stuff continues to happen, and soon Claire begins to believe that the spirit may be that of a young woman, Madison Elizabeth Frank (Amber Valletta), who disappeared about a year ago. Everyone thinks she's gone nuttier than a chipmunk at a peanut factory, but she keeps up her one-woman search for the missing girl, bringing into play unforeseen events and action. Unforeseen for those who haven't seen the trailer, that is.

To tell you the truth, I really only saw half the movie. The other half consisted of me staring at the corner of the screen, occasionally darting my eyes back and forth, just waiting for something to jump up out of the darkness and scare the living bejeezus out of me (those sudden loud blasts of music didn't do much to calm my nerves, either). There were two moments that had me screaming like a 12-year old girl at a Backstreet Boys concert: one about halfway through when Norman sneaks up behind Claire, and another scene towards the end that takes place in the infamous bathtub (which, some may argue, is the real star of the film).

One thing that kept getting on my nerves, though, was the fact that Michelle Pfeiffer's character fell into the trap of so many other horror movie heroines; for some reason known only to herself, she deemed it necessary to walk around the house in nothing but shadows during the daytime, and leave all the lights in the house off. I wanted to shout at the screen, "You idiot, turn on some fricking lights!" The one exception to this rule was the bathroom, which was brightly lit like an operating room.

Pfeiffer is the driving force in this movie, however. It's her character that eventually either makes or breaks the film, and Pfeiffer turns in a great performance. She endears herself to the audience so we know that a) she's not crazy, therefore b) something must be rotten in the state of Claire's house. Her character, while sometimes letting fear and paranoia get the best of her, for the most part keeps herself together and diligently sets about trying to find out just what the hell is going on. Especially powerful is the bathtub scene in the last half hour. It's probably one of her best performances. And of course, the scene where she seduces Harrison Ford on top of his desk was another highlight, but that's probably due more to raging hormones than any powerful piece of acting. The rest of the cast performs ably. Ford brings his usual everyman quality to Norman, while Diana Scarwid is often funny as Jody. As for Amber Valletta, well, I now know what a supermodel really looks like before all the airbrushing and touchups take place. Tee-hee.

Zemeckis has re-assembled most of his crew from the Forrest Gump shoot, and has created a vastly different look and experience altogether. Cinematographer Don Burgess is equally adept at photographing Pfeiffer's porcelain beauty and the dark, moody interiors of the Spencer's haunted house, brought to realistic life by production designer Rick Carter. Meanwhile, the film would be drastically less effective without the intense musical score by Alan Silvestri; the aural part of the film accounts for just as many scares as the visual.

When I saw What Lies Beneath, I tried to watch it as if I'd never seen the trailers. I found I couldn't shake the fact that I already knew what was about to happen, but I must admit that sometimes I was surprised when and how things actually took place. When it all comes down to it, the job of a horror movie is to scare and entertain. While definitely not a masterpiece along the lines of Contact, What Lies Beneath has enough substance and scares to satisfy fans of the horror genre, the stars and perhaps a few other casual filmgoers.

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