Long before he became the king of unintentionally creepy motion capture films (Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol), it was really hard to peg Robert Zemeckis down to just one genre. He brought the world a sci-fi/comedy classic with Back to the Future, a heartwarming, Oscar-winning dramedy with Forrest Gump, and an imaginative animation/live action hybrid with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
But it was 20 years ago exactly that he showed the world his take on the horror genre. Styled more like a Hitchcockian thriller than a traditional slasher or supernatural ghost story, What Lies Beneath remains the highest grossing horror film of 2000, as well as the 10th highest grossing film of that year (just behind Bryan Singer’s X-Men).
Clearly, it took the world by storm, so on its 20th anniversary, we thought it would be fun to take a closer look at it and see if it still holds up!
“Hitchcock with Technology”
Given that Hitchcock’s final film was released in 1976 (as well as his passing in 1980), he never go the chance to make movies in our modern world with modern gadgets that really seemed to take off in the 1980’s. From then to even now, technology for personal use is growing a rapid rate
So it’s led to many of his fans to speculate what Hitchcock might have done with things like cell phones, the internet, social media, the prevalence of cameras and surveillance, etc. Thus, when Zemeckis set out to make What Lies Beneath, he wanted to explore these ideas and create a Hitchockian style thriller, but with the use of these technologies.
After all, it’s the internet that allows Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) to discover information on the disappearance of Madison Frank (Amber Valetta), and there’s a rather important scene involving Norman (Harrison Ford) dialing a number on a cordless phone, which Claire is able to look back at and see which number he dialed.
These were things wouldn’t have been possible (or at least would have been harder) a few decades earlier. But at the same time, it doesn’t rely too heavily on these technologies in the way that 2018’s Searching did, which also advertised itself as a Hitchcock-inspired thriller with technology.
Ultimately, What Lies Beneath perfectly captured the tone it was going for, just with the mood. The first half doesn’t even really feel like a horror film, but it brilliantly sets everything up for the second.
It’s no secret that horror doesn’t get the cinematic respect that it deserves. This is so prevalent that whenever a horror film wins or is nominated for Oscars, they refer to it as a “psychological thriller”.
It seems that the Academy is more willing to celebrate films like The Silence of the Lambs, Misery, The Sixth Sense, and Get Out if they’re just thrillers rather than horror. What Lies Beneath falls into similar category, with many describing it as the former rather than the latter.
And while it doesn’t tell its ghost story in quite the same way that Poltergeist or Insidious did, it doesn’t diminish it’s creepy quality or it’s achievements in the horror genre. If anything, this movie is all the more frightening because of how the ghost story is kept just within the fringe of reality, never going too far into cheap jump scare territory.
In fact, we spend a great deal of the film not quite sure if Claire is just losing her mind. Not just that, but the film is a beauty to look at. Between its production design and art direction, it has a very classy look to it. Which makes the invasion of supernatural fear all that more intimidating.
However, we must still address the ultimate question first put forth by this piece, does What Lies Beneath hold up, now on its 20th anniversary? Honestly, it kinda does, for the most part.
Sure there are things that date it, like the length of time it takes for a single webpage to load, along with Claire sporting an old school Nokia cell phone, complete with antenna.
But, given how rapidly handheld technology has grown, even in just two decades, it’s kind of amazing that these are the only things that date it. Zemeckis pulled a fast one on all of us when he said he wanted to make a modern Hitchcock film with electronics, but then only feature them minimally.
Instead, he gave us a suspenseful and creepy ghost horror story (yes, horror not thriller) that feels like it could have been made 20 years earlier, or even could have been made today!
What did you think of What Lies Beneath? Is a horror film or a supernatural thriller (or both)? Do you think it still holds up 20 years later? Let us know in the comments!
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