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Non-Review Review: What Lies Beneath?

What we’ve got here is a solid, old-fashioned ghost story with more restraint and grace than any number of Hollywood shockers. A slow, moody and intense look at the collapsing marital relationship between Claire and Norman Spencer after their daughter goes to college, it takes its time getting were it’s going, but manages to seem a classy flick.

I was also shivering a bit after watching the movie...

The film has it’s fair share of flaws. I get that misdirection is the film’s centrepiece (and I get the thematic resonance of the initial, but ultimately tangential, plot twist), but the movie is arguably too long for its own good – it moves in stops-and-starts. In a way that’s good – it’s structured like a rollercoaster. You enjoy a given twist more if you’ve been anticipating it longer or if you’ve been allowed to find your feet. A sudden jolt isn’t too effective if you’ve already been jolted so much that your head hurts.

The movie also actually does the impossible in what is generally a ridiculously unfair genre. It moes at a pace that may allow smarter audiences to legitimately jump ahead at points. I understand that this is a catch-22 situation. If you move so fast that there’s no way the audience can piece together the next twist, then you are accused of cheating – of rigging the game in your favour. If  you move slow enough to let faster audience members catch on, they’ll more than likely berate the film as simplistic.

I’m going to be honest and say that the movie brilliantly blindsighted me at points – and I wasn’t that smart-ass movie-goer that I probably should have been. And that is more than like because the movie’s pacing lulled me into a false sense of security. And that’s undoubtedly a good thing.

On the other hand, there were moments which I felt could have been better spent, or events which took far too long to unfold within the narrative. Scenes which just seemed to be there because this is that type of film, damn it.

But, pacing issues aside, it’s a very solid film. Part of its appeal comes from the fact that we simply don’t make movies like this any more. Maybe because we outgrew them – maybe because we find monsters and slashers scarier. Maybe because CGI is so much cheaper that we flood our ghost films with it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s CGI all over the place here, but it’s subtle and understated. I had to pause the movie and rewind to be sure I’d seen something that I thought I saw. Was it really there? I wasn’t sure until I checked. And that is an aspect of horror and chillers that gets lost – not the slashing or the hacking, but the “did I just see something or didn’t I?” bit.

Of course, the two leads are as fantastic as ever. It’s really Michelle Pfeiffer’s movie and she carriews it. Given her screentime and her arc, she needs to convince the audience to invest in this fifty-odd-year-old housewive’s perception of things as half-seen or half-remembered or construed in such a way. With this sort of suburban paranoia and other elements I don’t really want to go into, the movie owes more than a slight debt to Alfred Hitchcock, and – though he is no equal – Zemeckis pays fantastic tribute to the master.

Harrison Ford is solid in a role that is pretty much supporting. He brings that loveable everyman style to the role in a way that he hasn’t really managed since. He’s perfectly believable as a man who is at once so lost in his own work that he doesn’t notice his wife’s increasing unease and yet still cares deeply about her.

There’s more that I could go into, but I won’t spoil or ruin the film for you. The ending is just a tad generic, but up until that point the movie is a breath of fresh air. Fresh, creepy, disorientating and haunted air.

One Response

  1. yeah, its good for a while, but the ‘twist’ is pretty predictable, even for an eejit like me, there arent that many characters on the screen so narrowing it down is pretty easy
    pfeifepherfffererppfer always watchable though

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