Dir: Robert Zemeckis. US. 1999. 126 mins.
Prod co: 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks Pictures, Imagemovers. Dist: DreamWorks (US, Canada)/Fox (International). Prods: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke. Exec prods: Joan Bradshaw, Mark Johnson. Scr: Clark Gregg. DoP: Don Burgess. Ed: Arthur Schmidt. Music: Alan Silvestri. Prod des: Rick Carter, Jim Teegarden. Visual effects supervisor: Rob Legato. Main cast: Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, Amber Valletta.
Hollywood ghost stories have a lot to live up to in the wake of The Sixth Sense. What Lies Beneath works hard to push the fright buttons and delivers the requisite number of jolting, squeal-inducing moments. In the end, however, it never quite makes the grade. Stars Ford and Pfeiffer should deliver older audiences early on, but with their recently waning box office pulling power they may not be able to turn this Fox-DreamWorks split rights venture into anything more than a solid commercial performer.
Setting out at a very leisurely pace, the film takes its time introducing the first hints of trouble into the lives of empty-nest housewife Claire Spencer (Pfeiffer) and her ambitious academic husband Norman (Ford). Left alone in her new lakeside house, Claire first senses and then experiences the presence of a ghostly young woman. Building up the tension becomes a rather laboured process and the ghostly manifestations are none too original (lots of mirrors and billowing curtains).
Later on, the film turns into more of a psychological thriller as it reveals details of Claire's recent emotional crisis and Norman's infidelity. Though it sometimes feels like an awkward stretch, linking the supernatural to the domestic is a smart idea which seems to open up new possibilities.
But then the climax takes the film into slasher territory. It's effective in its own brutal way, but it undermines most of what has gone before.