What Lies Beneath

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What Lies Beneath
What lies beneath.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced byJack Rapke
Steve Starkey
Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay byClark Gregg
Story bySarah Kernochan
Clark Gregg
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyDon Burgess
Edited byArthur Schmidt
Distributed by
Release date
  • July 21, 2000 (2000-07-21)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$100 million[1]
Box office$291.4 million[1]

What Lies Beneath is a 2000 American supernatural horror film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as a couple who experience a strange haunting of their home. It was the first film by Zemeckis' production company ImageMovers. The film opened in 2,813 theaters in North America, and grossed $291 million at the worldwide box office, becoming the tenth-highest-grossing film of the year. It received mixed reviews, but was nominated for three Saturn Awards.


After her daughter Caitlin leaves for college, Vermont housewife Claire Spencer begins noticing the volatile relationship between new neighbors, Mary and Warren Feur. Claire's husband Norman, an accomplished scientist and professor, dismisses her preoccupation.

After failing to see Mary for several days, Claire suspects that Warren may have killed her. Claire sees the image of a woman floating in the lake, and discovers an odd key inside a heater vent in her home. Claire and her mystic friend Jody unsuccessfully hold a séance to contact Mary, after which Claire finds the bathtub filled with hot water and, "You know," written on the mirror. Claire then finds her computer inexplicably typing "MEF" repeatedly. Claire becomes convinced Mary is haunting her, but Norman is unconvinced. Several days later, Mary returns home alive and well, saying that she was with her mother in Rhode Island after a fight with Warren.

In a broken picture frame, Claire finds a newspaper clipping of a missing woman named Madison Elizabeth Frank, who bears a striking resemblance to her, and whose initials match "MEF." Claire tracks down Madison's mother and steals a lock of Madison's hair from a photo in the home in which Madison is wearing an unusual necklace. Later that night, Claire reads about conjuring the dead, and becomes possessed. When Norman arrives home from work, Claire's personality has noticeably changed, and she aggressively seduces him. However, the encounter is interrupted when Claire recalls a repressed memory of discovering Norman's affair with Madison, his student. Norman admits to the affair, and Claire spends the night with Jody, who reveals to her that she had witnessed Norman arguing with a blonde woman at a cafe in the nearby town of Adamant about a year earlier.

Claire returns home and finds Norman in the tub after an apparent suicide attempt, but he recovers. Claire asks Norman if he killed Madison, which he denies. He then witnesses Claire being drawn to the lake, where an unseen force pulls her under by the lock of Madison's hair in her hand. It pulls her down to the bottom, where she finds a box with the same symbol as Madison's necklace. Norman saves Claire from the lake, and the two burn the hair. After visiting Adamant and spotting ornate lockboxes at a shop, Claire recovers from the lake an identical box, which she unlocks with the matching key; inside, she finds Madison's necklace. Norman changes his story, claiming that Madison killed herself in their home, and that he pushed her car into the lake with her inside. Norman agrees to confess to authorities, calling 911 to explain the situation. Claire redials the phone to discover that he actually dialed 411, faking the conversation. Norman attacks her, paralyzing her with halothane, and finally admits to murdering Madison to prevent her from exposing their affair to the dean of the university and that he faked the suicidal attempt.

Norman places Claire in the bathtub, filling it with water and staging a suicide for her. He spots Madison's necklace around Claire's neck; as he moves her, her face contorts to that of Madison's corpse; Norman jerks away, and smashes his head on the bathroom sink, rendering him unconscious. Recovering from the paralysis, Claire manages to shut the tap off in time to save herself from drowning. She finds that Norman has left the bathroom and discovers him seemingly unconscious downstairs. She flees in the couple's truck, which has their boat hitched to the back. As she is crossing the bridge over Lake Champlain, Norman attacks Claire, who frantically dials 911 on her cell phone and causes the truck to careen down the embankment into the lake and dislodge Madison's car. Disturbed by the debris, Madison's corpse floats toward the couple and avenges her own death, drowning Norman and allowing Claire to swim to the surface. Later in the winter, Claire places a red rose on Madison's grave.


  • Harrison Ford as Dr. Norman Spencer, a successful college professor and scientist.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer, Norman's wife.
  • Diana Scarwid as Jody, a mystic and Claire's best friend.
  • Miranda Otto as Mary Feur, Norman and Claire's neighbor.
  • James Remar as Warren Feur, Norman and Claire's neighbor and Mary's husband.
  • Katharine Towne as Caitlin Spencer, Claire's daughter and Norman's stepdaughter.
  • Ray Baker as Dr. Stan Powell
  • Joe Morton as Dr. Drayton, a therapist whom Claire visits upon Norman's urging.
  • Amber Valletta as Madison Elizabeth Frank, a murdered young woman with whom Norman has had an affair.
  • Wendy Crewson as Elena


Documentary filmmaker Sarah Kernochan had adapted a personal experience with the paranormal as a script treatment featuring a retirement aged couple dealing with restless but compassionate spirits. DreamWorks commissioned a rewrite from actor-writer Clark Gregg. This script was later delivered in 1998 by Steven Spielberg himself to his director friend Robert Zemeckis,[2] who had signed a deal for DreamWorks to distribute the films of newly founded production company ImageMovers, and announced interest in doing a thriller film.[3] Harrison Ford then signed to star on the film, even agreeing to clear room in his schedule for the project.[4] Michelle Pfeiffer then followed as DreamWorks started to deal with 20th Century Fox regarding the film's distribution.[5] Ford and Pfeiffer were Zemeckis' first and only choices for the lead roles.[3] Fox agreed to distribute both What Lies Beneath and Zemeckis' other project Cast Away, with the thriller having DreamWorks doing the domestic distribution and Fox the international one.[6]

Zemeckis filmed What Lies Beneath while Cast Away was shut down to allow Tom Hanks to lose weight and grow a beard for his character's development.[7] As Gregg had to remain with production for rewrites, he had to decline Aaron Sorkin's offer to read for a major role in Sports Night - though Sorkin would later write for Gregg a minor role in the final episodes of the series.[8]


Box office[edit]

What Lies Beneath opened in 2,813 theaters in North America and grossed $29,702,959 for an average of $10,559 per theater. The film ended up earning $155,464,351 domestically and $135,956,000 internationally for a total of $291,420,351 worldwide, close to triple its production budget of $100 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews. The film currently holds a rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 125 reviews with an average rating of 5.51/10 with the site's consensus stating that "Robert Zemeckis is unable to salvage an uncompelling and unoriginal film."[9] The film received a score of 51 on Metacritic based on 35 reviews.[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[11]

The New York Times wrote that, "at the start, [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."[12] 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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15] 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."[16]

Michelle Pfeiffer received some positive notice for her performance. Roger Ebert called her "convincing and sympathetic."[14]

In his review, Ebert said that he felt the problem with Zemeckis' desire to direct a Hitchcockian film was to involve the supernatural (the film contains several musical, visual and plot references to Psycho and Vertigo, among other Hitchcock films), which he believes to be something Alfred Hitchcock himself would never have done.[14]


Award Category Subject Result
ASCAP Award Top Box Office Films Alan Silvestri Won
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards[17] Favorite Actor - Suspense Harrison Ford Won
Favorite Actress - Suspense Michelle Pfeiffer Won
Favorite Supporting Actress - Suspense Diana Scarwid Nominated
Golden Trailer Award Best Horror/Thriller Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Silver Ribbon for Best Male Dubbing Michele Gammino Won
Saturn Award[17] Best Horror Film Jack Rapke Nominated
Steve Starkey Nominated
Robert Zemeckis Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Actress Michelle Pfeiffer Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "What Lies Beneath (2000) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  2. ^ "Starburst magazine issue 268, What Lies Beneath director interview". www.visimag.com.
  3. ^ a b "What Lies Beneath (2000) – Production Notes" (Press release). 20th Century Fox. 2000.
  4. ^ ‘Beneath’ pairs Ford, Zemeckis; D’Onofrio nabs ‘Abbie”, Variety, June 4, 1998. Accessed November 26, 2016
  5. ^ Fleming, Michael. Pfeiffer joins Ford in ‘What’, Variety, October 16, 1998. Accessed November 26, 2016.
  6. ^ Petrikin, Chris. Pairing for Zemeckis, Variety, October 14, 1998. Accessed November 26, 2016.
  7. ^ Kehr, Dave. 'Cast Away' Director Defies Categorizing, The New York Times, December 17, 2000. Accessed November 26, 2016.
  8. ^ Adams, Erik. "Clark Gregg". avclub.com.
  9. ^ "What Lies Beneath Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  10. ^ "What Lies Beneath reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  11. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  12. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (July 21, 2000). "'What Lies Beneath': If Only Her Husband Hadn't Made That Horrible Mistake". New York Times.
  13. ^ Turan, Kenneth (July 21, 2000). "What Lies Beneath – MOVIE REVIEW". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 27, 2010.
  14. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (July 21, 2000). "What Lies Beneath :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times.
  15. ^ "What Lies Beneath Review – Film". Time Out. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  16. ^ "Review of What Lies Beneath". Empire. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  17. ^ a b "What Lies Beneath (2000) – Awards". IMDb. Retrieved December 26, 2009.

External links[edit]