Film Reviews

WHAT LIES BENEATH (Victoria)

By • Jul 21st, 2000 •

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I was very angry over the trailer for WHAT LIES BENEATH, which I saw several times. It gives away so much of the story, I wondered what would be left. Here’s what we know from the trailer: Harrison Ford has an affair with a student who kills herself and then haunts Ford’s wife, played by Michelle Pfieffer. In the trailer Ford confesses to Michelle.

So now what is left but to sit back and watch 75% of the plot – that you already know – unfold. Knowing the first two-thirds of the storyline allowed me to marvel at the director’s visual choices, which consist entirely of close-ups of Michelle Pfieffer’s gorgeous 44-year-old face: the triumph of cosmetic surgery.

Michelle plays the penultimate perfect wife: a classical cellist, we learn she promptly gave up her career to marry Ford, the son of a prominent, world-class scientist (and the oppressive long shadow of which Ford cannot surmount). We meet them as they are saying goodbye to Michelle’s daughter who is going away to college. Michelle cries and wouldn’t let go of her daughter. She is the perfect mother. That evening we see the gorgeous Michelle as the perfect wife – sexy, sexually aggressive, and deeply in love with her husband. Throughout the first 75% of the movie, she frequently looks up at her husband and tells him he’s “brilliant.” For some odd reason, Ford strays with a Michelle look-alike, played by supermodel Amber Valetta (whose name appears as a featured co-star, though she is only shown in a photograph! When did people who are shown in photos get a movie credit? Or, should the question be: “Who is Amber’s agent?”). Michelle did not notice her husband’s infidelity because she is also completely trusting and totally understanding of the very long hours he must spend being a brilliant geneticist on the fast track. Add another ring to the halo.

There’s some past murky stuff drifting around Michelle’s life having to do with a dead ex-husband and a near-fatal car crash. No matter, Michelle is suffering from empty nest syndrome and becomes fond of spying on her mysterious neighbors (red-herring alert). This subplot works only as a means to make good-natured fun of Michelle. Then the real freaky stuff starts happening. Doors open, a framed photograph constantly smashes to the floor, and a woman’s face keeps appearing in Michelle’s claw-footed bathtub. Did Michelle’s unfriendly neighbor kill his wife and her ghost is trying to reach out to Michelle? Michelle decides to hold a s?ance in her bathroom. And, what does the middel-aged hunky, but faithless, Ford have to do with all of this?

(I know, I saw the trailer. It’s not the neighbor’s wife!)

Pfieffer and Ford together! Two huge stars, so this has to be a terrific story because both their camps couldn’t be wrong. WHAT LIES BENEATH will be Michelle’s biggest hit in years (we have to go all the way back to DANGEROUS MINDS for a Pfieffer hit of any consequence) and we’ll soon forget about Ford’s lack-of-chemistry misstep with Kristen Scott Thomas in the hilarious RANDOM HEARTS. The film is beautiful to look at and the Pfieffer/Ford lifestyle is movieland magical. They live in a historic mansion on a Vermont lake. Ford is a respected professor in a quaint college town. Michelle’s hair looks fabulous.

However, the movie suffers from a severe and dreadful case of FORESHADOWING. (There’s only one surprise coming and because the studio and filmmakers ruined 75% of the movie for me with that awful trailer, I should ruin the last 25% for them and tell it to you. But I’m feeling happy today, so you may read on with without fear.) All the scary thriller stuff is so telegraphed, over and over again, and the anticipation built so high, the audience was screaming at every moment. I will sinfully admit that I had to watch a lot of it through my fingers and then watched several highly manipulated scenes by looking at a tiny spot in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. I felt so used and betrayed by tried and true cinematic tricks that worked! Zemeckis doesn’t have a new thriller trick up his sleeve but he uses the whole SCREAM/FATAL ATTRACTION bag to make the audience shriek.

WHAT LIES BENEATH creates a really new role for Harrison Ford, and I was disappointed. I have come to believe that Ford demands more attention paid to his character’s motivation. Why, then, did the professor get himself into so much trouble in the first place? Wasn’t Michelle perfect enough?

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