Most people who know me will tell you (and I won't deny) that I'm a huge Robert Zemeckis
fan. I'd say without hesitating that he's by far my favorite director
. Sadly, I am not a big fan of horror movies
. I don't like them much at all. Several months ago when I saw the trailer
for What Lies Beneath
, I ignored it, filed it in that category of movies I didn't plan on seeing...until I saw the name "Robert Zemeckis" in big white letters. Hmm. So of course, I had to see the movie, just to see whether Zemeckis, one of the best directors of all time, could make a horror flick that I actually liked.
This is most definitely a horror film. This is also, unfortunately, a horror film that will not be liked by people who don't like horror films. It's only logical that this would be the case, but I was hoping for better.
Regardless of how much of a horror film it is, What Lies Beneath is not a bad movie. It is only somewhat typical of the horror genre. For some reason, this movie reminded me most of Rosemary's Baby, despite the fact that this film's atmosphere is notably less dark and the story not very similar. Not a bad movie.
It's not an extremely good movie either.
The cliches this film exploits were nearly unbearable. While the rest of the audience was laughing at how much they jumped when something onscreen surprised them, I was laughing at how predictable the surprise had been. I'm not a very jumpy person. I twitched once during this entire movie. There was only one thing that actually surprised me...one thing that actually wasn't predictable. Aside from that one tiny movement near the end of the film, the only thing about this movie that had me jumping in my seat was the way the camera moved.
There's a reason Zemeckis is my favorite director: he treats the camera as if it is a character in the film. The camera is almost always moving, never stationary. Even when the movement is so slight that you can barely discern it, the camera is moving, panning ever so slowly, tracking something important in the scene, making ever-so-slight suggestions to your eyes that you don't even notice unless you're trying hard to.
There are several scenes in this movie that literally made me sit bolt upright in my seat and lift up my jaw with my hand (yes, my jaw actually dropped). Not because I was scared or surprised, but because these wonderful, seemingly impossible camera moves just suddenly happened out of nowhere, and I had to blink twice and shake my head to convince myself that I had really seen it. Zemeckis did this to me constantly in Forrest Gump and in Contact, and he doesn't disappoint in What Lies Beneath.
But enough rambling about the camera. The plot is the most important part of any movie, right? Ick. That's where this movie gets docked a lot of points. While the plot, in the end, certainly seems deep and meaningful and sensible, the way it was executed was somewhat muddled and, quite frankly, annoying. The movie starts off quick, pulls you into an intriguing (if unoriginal) mystery involving the secret life of the next door neighbors, and then suddenly drops that theme altogether in the middle of the movie and focuses on something else, which eventually turns out to be the movie's main point.
It seems almost as if the writer ran with one idea for a while, got tired of it, terminated it, and started on a new concept, then went back and sprinkled the earlier parts of the script with small bits of foreshadowing regarding the new concept. Messy, messy plot.
Acting, for once in a horror film, is superb in this movie. Michelle Pfeiffer, as always, steals the screen with her enchanting eyes and uncanny ability to thoroughly convince you that her character is entirely one hundred percent genuine. Even Harrison Ford, while still occasionally falling into the rut of being his old monotone self, manages to shine in parts of the movie (most specifically, the ending). But most of all, anyone watching this movie must understand that Zemeckis is a very precise director who expects quite a bit from his actors. Many of the scenes are extremely long shots with complex camera movements and even more complex actions and dialog...and since the camera never cuts away, the actors had to get it just right. And they do, consistently.
The bottom line: If you like horror films, this one is better than most. If you like beautiful cinematography and stunning camera moves, this film will have you wiping slobber off your shoes. Otherwise, wait for the video and a stormy night.