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Separation Anxiety

What Lies Beneath on IMDb

Plot Overview

College NewsUniversity wife Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) arises from the tub, fiddles with the hair dryer—it's tripped a breaker—and draws the drapes to the Vermont morning. It's time to coax her daughter Caitlin (Katharine Towne) out of bed (“Good morning, Beauty.”) She's to start college today (“Let's go.”) Mom has “known this day was coming for a long time.” Never­the­less, her separation anxiety surprises her for its intensity.

candlesThe empty nester now fills her time spying on the arguing neighbors (“They're at it again”) and when they cease and the house is quiet, she imagines hearing whispers & glimpsing reflections. Her husband, research scientist Dr. Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford) makes an appointment for her with bargain base­ment therapist Dr. Drayton (Joe Morton.) He suggests she ask the ghost what it wants. Claire & her best friend Jody (Diana Scarwid) employ a Ouija board, but their séance is a dog. Then her husband leads an exorcism he found in a book, Witch­craft, Ghosts, and Alchemy, but they're just blowing smoke. The who-you-gonna-call liberators ain't these guys.

apple and booksSome elementary sleuthing leads them to suspect the vengeful ghost emerged from someone at the university taking a bite of “forbidden fruit.” Spouses fight more often than they kill each other, because friends, colleagues, and family would notice one of them missing, and the police would suspect foul play. Not so with an illicit affair, which is carried on in secret, and a missing student can be written off as a “run­away.” When one party treats it as merely a “slip” and the other can't stand to break up, that creates a difficulty for the former. As one of author Thomas Berger's characters puts it, “I try to … not cater to boundless appetites. Desires are treacherous and insatiable, and any attempt to satisfy them increases their intensity” (309.)


The puzzle is why a peaceful professor would hit on a larcenous solution to his predicament. This movie follows the line of, (Prov. 30:33) “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.” Churn that milk long enough and it turns into butter. Hit the right spot and it bleeds. In this movie they've been fixing up Norman's late father's lake house to the point it's “practically gutted.” Tear that old house sufficiently apart and they stumble upon a key to the mystery, hidden in some cranny. A stalker keeps at it long enough and some­thing surfaces. The professor's wife catches the co-ed staring at her husband at a reception. Her friend observers the duo arguing at an off-the-beaten-trail bistro. The wife catches a glimpse of the interloper in the mirror. Stalk a married man persistently and eventually it gets noticed, putting his marriage in jeopardy. Milk into butter.

tombstone“And the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood.” The body is vulnerable to bleeding from that particular spot. In “What Lies Beneath,” Norman flinches at seeing a ghost and right hand his hand strikes a mirror, cutting himself on the broken glass. It bleeds. The stalker had threatened to go to the dean. That would have put the professor's liveli­hood royally in the toilet (“They don't screw around with that shit anymore.”) Rather than let his bloody career tank and his perfect marriage flounder, he helped the girl join the ranks of the missing. She'd forced the issue and now she's a ghost haunting the lake­side residents until she gets a decent burial.

Production Values

” (2000) was directed by Robert Zemeckis. Its screen­play was written by Clark Gregg from a story by Sarah Kernochan. It stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. The acting from Pfeiffer and Ford was excellent. The rest of the cast was good, too.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for terror/violence, sensuality and brief language. It was filmed on location at Lake Champlain, New York, USA. It boasts excellent camera work that stretched the tension right tight. The editing was skillful and smooth. The pacing was variable depending on whether the audience was being lulled or shocked. Run­time is 2 hours 10 minutes.

Review Conclusion w/a Christian's Recommendation

“What Lies Beneath” is a first rate supernatural thriller. It's necessarily derivative to some degree, but not so as to be distracting. It weaves several layers together simulating an insular college town. Various strong characters keep it interesting. Mundane plot lines keep the frights at bay part of the time. You never know when some­thing's going to jump out at you. The super­natural element is cleverly ambiguous most of the time. Enter­taining if you like this stuff, stupid if you're above it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotation is from the Authorized King James Version (KJV.) Pub. 1611. Rev. 1769. Software.

Berger, Thomas. Killing Time. Copyright © 1967 by Thomas Berger. New York: The Dial Press. Print.