What Lies Beneath: Wikis


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What Lies Beneath

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Steve Starkey
Robert Zemeckis
Jack Rapke
Written by Sarah Kernochan
Clark Gregg
Starring Harrison Ford
Michelle Pfeiffer
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Don Burgess
Editing by Arthur Schmidt
Studio ImageMovers
Distributed by USA/Canada
20th Century Fox
Release date(s) July 21, 2000 (2000-07-21)
Running time 130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million
Gross revenue $291,420,351

What Lies Beneath is a 2000 American supernatural thriller/horror film directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as a well-to-do couple who experience a strange haunting that uncovers secrets about their past.

The film is deliberately Hitchcockian in style. Pfeiffer's blonde female protagonist is reminiscent of former Hitchcock blondes Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren, while Ford's duplicitous antagonist recalls Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt and Claude Rains in Notorious. Characters, plot developments and various elements pay homage to Rear Window, Vertigo, Spellbound, Rebecca and Psycho.



Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) moves to Vermont with her husband, renowned scientist Dr. Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford), after a serious car accident which leaves gaps in her memory. Combined with her daughter Caitlin's (Katharine Towne) departure for college, Claire is profoundly affected. Overhearing her new neighbor Mary Feur (Miranda Otto) sobbing one day, Claire is concerned, despite Norman's reassurance, and her worry increases when she sees Mary's husband Warren (James Remar) dragging what looks like a body bag out of the house in the middle of the night.

Claire decides to investigate by taking a basket of flowers and wine to the house as a gift. After nobody answers the door she walks around the side of the house and discovers a woman's sandal with a dark stain on it, which she steals. Back on the doorstep, she is surprised by Warren whose surly behaviour further arouses her suspicion.

Mysterious events begin to occur when Claire is alone in the house — pictures fall, doors open and close and Claire witnesses a shadowy reflection in bathwater. Claire is convinced that Mary is dead and haunting her. Desperate for closure, and facing little sympathy from Norman, Claire invites her best friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) to join her for a séance in her bathroom. Claire produces the sandal she had earlier taken from Mary's house and places it on the table. The Ouija board does not move, but a candle starts to flicker, then goes out. The dial on the Ouija board then starts to move slowly from M to F.

Claire informs Norman of the séance, prompting him to accuse her of going crazy. Meeting Warren, Claire hysterically accuses him of killing his wife, to which Warren responds with confusion before introducing Mary to the pair.

Back at the house, a picture falls off the windowsill again, and as Claire removes the newspaper cutting from the broken frame, she notices a partial missing person report on the back of the cutting, for Madison Elizabeth. Claire finds a missing person report for Madison Elizabeth Frank (Amber Valletta), a student at the university where Norman had been a lecturer. Claire decides to visit Madison's mother.

Claire performs a ritual with the lock of hair she found at Madison's mother's house, which allows Madison to possess her and seduce Norman when he returns home from work. Norman, frightened by comments Claire has made, pushes her away from him, causing her to drop the lock of hair and break the connection. Claire's memory begins to return and she recalls that she had once caught Norman with Madison. Norman makes a confession: he had a brief relationship with Madison, but realized quickly that he loved Claire too much to leave her, causing unstable Madison to threaten to kill Claire. He then visited Madison to find her dead of an overdose with a letter to Claire. Burning the letter, he pushed Madison's car (with Madison inside) into the lake.

Norman and Claire agree to phone the police. Norman makes the call before going to take a shower. As Claire realizes that the number her husband called is not that of the police, Norman suddenly sedates her and places her into the filling bathtub, expecting her to drown. He leans over her to give her one final kiss, and see's that she is wearing a pendant around her neck. Realizing the pendant is on backwards, he picks up Claire's head to adjust it as her face morphs into the corpse-like face of Madison. He is startled and jumps up against a mirror, collapses and hits his head on the sink, then falls to the floor.

Claire, recovering from the sedative, crawls out of the bath and downstairs. The phone has been disconnected, so she starts to drive somewhere that will have better cell phone reception, passing Norman's body as she leaves the house. Norman, only stunned, chases her and jumps into the truck when she pauses on a bridge. The truck veers off the bridge and plunges into the lake, the same lake into which Norman pushed Madison's car. Norman grabs Claire's leg so that she cannot escape, but Madison's ghost grabs Norman, drags him to the bottom of the lake, and forces him to release Claire's leg so she can float to the surface.

The following winter, Claire is seen placing a single red rose at the grave of Madison Elizabeth Frank, but not the grave of Norman. The camera pans out and an image of Madison's face is seen in the snow.


Alternate poster


Hitchcockian elements

What Lies Beneath pays homage to the style of director Alfred Hitchcock with the appearance of established Hitchcockian motifs – the blonde woman in peril, the deceptive leading man, the misleading MacGuffin – and the inclusion of references to the following Hitchcock films:

  • Rear Window (1954) – Claire spies voyeuristically on her neighbors through the window, observes them fighting, deduces that one has murdered the other, and attempts to gather evidence to support her theory. The model for this sequence is the character played by James Stewart in Rear Window. However, What Lies Beneath subverts the ending of Rear Window by having the "murdered" character appear again to disprove Claire's assumption.
  • Spellbound (1945) – Claire visits a psychiatrist, where a possible connection is suggested between past trauma, selective amnesia and supernatural goings-on. This sequence alludes to the character played by Gregory Peck in Spellbound, who develops amnesia after a traumatic childhood experience.
  • Vertigo (1958) – Claire is haunted by the ghost of another woman (Madison Frank) who possesses her, at which point she jumps into a lake out of which she is pulled by Norman. These actions recall the character played by Kim Novak in Vertigo, who is pulled from water by James Stewart's character. In contrast to Vertigo, however, What Lies Beneath depicts Claire as actively seeking to communicate with the spirit.
  • Rebecca (1940) – Claire cannot escape the omnipresence of the ghost of a dead woman who had a relationship with her husband, was killed by him, and disposed of in water; not only that, but her physical resemblance to the dead woman when possessed causes her husband visible distress. These details place Claire in the position of Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, while Norman inhabits the role of Laurence Olivier as a seemingly devoted husband with a dark secret.
  • Psycho (1960) – Having already established the bathroom as an important location, a climactic moment sees Claire drugged and left paralysed in a running bath by Norman. The images of her fingers reaching out, her eyes frantically staring and her breath gasping, are reminiscent of the iconic scene featuring Janet Leigh murdered in the shower in Psycho. Unlike Marion Crane, Claire does not die.

Release and reaction

Budgeted at $100,000,000, What Lies Beneath was released on July 21, 2000 at #1 at the box office, grossing just under $30 million. It continued strongly throughout the summer of 2000, and ended up grossing over $155 million in the United States, and nearly $300 million worldwide.[2]

The film holds a rating of 45% on Rotten Tomatoes,[3] and a score of 51 on Metacritic,[4] indicating mixed reviews from critics.

The New York Times wrote that, "at the start, he [Zemeckis] zaps us with quick, glib scares, just to show he still knows how, but his heart isn't in this kind of material anymore. His reflexes are a little slow."[5] The Los Angeles Times called it "spooky with a polished kind of creepiness added in... What Lies Beneath nevertheless feels more planned than passionate, scary at points but unconvincing overall."[6] The Chicago Sun-Times wrote: "Lacking a smarter screenplay, it milks the genuine skills of its actors and director for more than it deserves, and then runs off the rails in an ending more laughable than scary. Along the way, yes, there are some good moments."[7] Time Out thought that, "after a slow build that at times makes every hair stand on end – Zemeckis rolls out every thriller cliché there is. A pity, because until then it's a smart, realistically staged, adult-oriented and extraordinarily effective domestic chiller."[8] Empire wrote: "The biggest surprise is, perhaps, that what emerges is no masterpiece, but a semi-sophisticated shocker, playfully homaging Hitchcock like a mechanical masterclass in doing ‘genre’. The first hour is great fun... It’s an enjoyably giddy ride, certainly, but once you’re back from the edge of your seat, you realise most of the creaks and groans are from the decomposing script."[9]

Michelle Pfeiffer received some positive notice for her performance. Roger Ebert called her "convincing and sympathetic."[7]

Ebert noted in his review that he felt the problem with Zemeckis's desire to direct a Hitchcockian film was to involve the supernatural, which he believes to be something Alfred Hitchcock would never have done.[10]

Awards and nominations

Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer both won Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for Favorite Actor – Suspense and Favorite Actress – Suspense, while Diana Scarwid was nominated for Favorite Supporting Actress – Suspense.[11]

The film received three Saturn Award nominations, for Best Horror Film, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis) and Best Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer).[11]


  1. ^ a b "What Lies Beneath (2000) – Trivia". imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0161081/trivia. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  2. ^ "What Lies Beneath (2000) – Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=whatliesbeneath.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  3. ^ "What Lies Beneath Movie Reviews, Pictures". rottentomatoes.com. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/what_lies_beneath/. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  4. ^ "What Lies Beneath reviews at Metacritic.com". metacritic.com. http://www.metacritic.com/video/titles/whatliesbeneath/. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  5. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (July 21, 2000). "'What Lies Beneath': If Only Her Husband Hadn't Made That Horrible Mistake". nytimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/library/film/072100beneath-film-review.html. 
  6. ^ Turan, Kenneth (July 21, 2000). "What Lies Beneath – MOVIE REVIEW – Los Angeles Times". http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie000720-9,0,5879659.story. 
  7. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (July 21, 2000). "What Lies Beneath :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". rogerebert.suntimes.com. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20000721/REVIEWS/7210304/1023. 
  8. ^ "What Lies Beneath Review – Film – Time Out London". timeout.com. http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/64413/what_lies_beneath.html. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  9. ^ "Review of What Lies Beneath". empireonline.com. http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/ReviewComplete.asp?FID=6237. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  10. ^ The film Rosemary's Baby (1968) was offered to Hitchcock, and he declined because it involved the supernatural.
  11. ^ a b "What Lies Beneath (2000) – Awards". imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0161081/awards. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

What Lies Beneath is a 2000 supernatural thriller/horror film by film director Robert Zemeckis. It tells the story of a housewife who finds her home is haunted. The film stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as Norman and Claire Spencer.


Jody: You stole the dead woman's shoe?

Jody: Are we hoping the ghost is going to have to use the potty?

Jody: [showing off her new convertible] It's a beautiful thing, alimony. You lose a husband, you get a car. Think it'll help me pick up dudes?
Claire: [later] Pick up any dudes yet?
Jody: I have one in the trunk!

Claire: Hello, Dr. Spencer.
Norman: You're not yourself today, are you?
Claire: No, no I'm not.

Claire: You had an affair with a girl who threatened to kill herself, and now there is a presence in our house. A young, blonde girl. Don't you get it? She did it, Norman. She's dead... and now she's trying to hurt you... or both of us.

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