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Film / What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath is a 2000 American supernatural horror-thriller film directed by Robert Zemeckis. It stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as Norman and Claire Spencer, a couple with a seemingly perfect marriage who experience a strange and terrifying haunting that uncovers secrets about their past and seems to threaten their lives.

Zemeckis made the film during a hiatus for Cast Away, waiting for Tom Hanks to lose enough weight to play a man stranded on an island for four years.

This film contains examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Norman, once everything is out in the open.
  • Big Bad: Norman.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:: Norman, after The Reveal of why Madison haunts the Spencers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Madison gets her vengeance by killing Norman and is able to finally move on. Claire is undoubtedly left mentally scarred from everything that's happened, but her visit to Madison's grave seems to imply that she's making steps towards getting on with her life.
  • Body Horror: Madison's decomposing corpse.
  • Broken Bird: Claire has shades of this after her oft-mentioned car accident, and there is no possible way she makes it through the rest of the film unbroken.
  • Dog Scare: How the seance ends.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early ghostly activity causes Claire to find a key hidden in Norman's study. The key eventually leads Claire to evidence that Norman killed Madison.
    • Throw-away dialogue between Norman and Claire mentions how they can't get cell phone reception until they reach the center of a bridge. This becomes a plot point when Claire tries to escape from Norman.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Madison is painted as one by Norman, although it's very likely another lie.
  • Creepy Souvenir: One of Madison Elizabeth Frank's hair braids.
  • Dangerous Key Fumble: Claire fumbles with the keys when escaping from the house towards the end, giving Norman just enough time to hitch a ride without her noticing.
  • Dark Secret: Norman isn't quite the perfect husband Claire thinks he is...
  • Decoy Protagonist: At first, much like the revelation of Emma Roberts' role in Scream 4, it seems Norman was just another heroic male lead for Harrison Ford to play opposite Michelle Pfeiffer's female lead as Claire, but then, it's revealed Norman is the Big Bad, while Claire is the sole main protagonist.
  • Demonic Possession: Claire allows herself to be possessed by Madison, which allows her to find out the truth about the affair. She later inadvertently allows another possession as Norman attempts to drown her.
  • Domestic Abuser: Subverted. Warren Feur initially comes across like this, but it's all a misunderstanding.
  • Driven to Suicide: Norman claims Madison killed herself when he tried to break off their affair. He's lying. He also intends to make Claire's death look like this as well.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Played with. Coop doesn't seem to detect ghosts or see any wrongdoing (aside from the scene where he barks at the lake instead of jumping in to get his ball). Even when Norman is revealed to be the killer, he doesn't attack him. However when he sees Claire lying motionless in the tub, he refuses to leave her, prompting Norman to drag the dog out of the bathroom.
  • Eye Awaken: Unconscious Norman's eyes fly open as Claire makes her escape from the house during the climax.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Norman, thanks to his actor Harrison Ford's natural acting charm.
  • Finger Twitching Revival: Norman's fingers twitch as he's lying unconscious at the bottom of the stairs.
  • Foreshadowing: Claire having a car accident prior to the events of the film is mentioned a few times. It turns out she had the accident after driving off in a heartbroken rage after discovering Norman's affair, and the accident left her unable to remember the affair — until Madison makes her remember.
    • During the dinner party, Norman converses with a friend about a fellow instructor who has been caught sleeping with his student. Norman himself had an affair with Madison, one of his students, and is revealed to have murdered her.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Madison is briefly seen reflected in the bath water for a second time (during the "YOU KNOW") scene. She only appears for about a second. Another example occurs at the very end of the film: as the camera pans down and the screen fades to black, an image of Madison's face can be seen in the snow.
  • Ghostly Goals: A combination of both Type A and a little bit of Type B: Madison wants to exact revenge on Norman, but also leaves clues for Claire to lead her towards the truth.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Madison's spirit, having avenged her own death, gives a small, peaceful smile as she floats through the lake.
  • Haunted Heroine: Claire.
  • He Knows Too Much: Norman killed Madison when she threatened to go to university authorities about their relationship, which would have likely gotten him fired and ruined his reputation, and he tries to kill Claire when she figures everything out
  • Homage: Some scenes are an homage to Psycho and Rear Window.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: The Feurs' "Sexual Olympics", as described by Norman.
  • Irony: Claire is terrified that their neighbor murdered his wife, never realizing, until the end that her own husband is a killer and will try to kill her as well.
  • Jump Scare: Several, but perhaps the best example is Madison's first appearance, reflected in the bath water.
    • The first time Claire's face morphs into that of Madison's is jarring enough. The second time it happens — when Claire's face suddenly morphs into Madison's very dead, very decomposing face — is downright horrifying.
  • Karmic Death: Norman is killed in the same way he murdered Madison — via drowning. Not only that, but he dies in the same lake in which he disposed of her body.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Norman first attempts to invoke this trope by claiming that Madison killed herself after he broke off the relationship. Then when he admits that he killed her, he still tried to invoke it by placing her body into her car and rolling it into the lake. He intends to make Claire's death look like a suicide as well
  • Mirror Scare: All over the place. This film will probably make you paranoid about looking into water or bathroom mirrors for a long time.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Warren Feur.
  • Nightmare Face: Claire's face morphing into Madison's dead, blue face.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Claire to the Feurs, though not entirely without good reason.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Much of the film runs on this.
  • Oh Crap!: A particularly chilling version happens towards the end, when Claire realizes that Norman most certainly did not dial 911. Later, during the climax, Norman has one when the very dead Madison tilts her head towards him.
  • Rear Window Investigation: Claire towards the Feurs.
  • Red Herring: The couple next door are perfectly nice — if a bit intense — and neither is dead or a murderer.
  • The Reveal: Several, but none are more shocking than the fact that Norman is the killer.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Snow Means Death: The film's final scene is of Claire placing a rose on Madison's tombstone, in the midst of a snowy winter day
  • Spooky Seance: Claire and Jody use a Ouija board to try and contact the ghost.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Norman plays this annoyingly straight throughout much of the film, but then comes to believe Claire's claims. Then when it is revealed that he is Madison's killer, he says that he believed her "ghost story" was an attempt to catch him.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer completely spoils the fact that Norman had an affair with Madison, and by extension also spoils that the subplot involving the couple next door is a Red Herring.