NOVEMBER 1, 2009
I went to the movies a LOT during the summer of 2000. Looking over BoxOfficeMojo’s list of movies, there are very few movies that I DIDN’T see in theaters during the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day (I even saw notorious duds like Screwed, Battlefield Earth, Boys and Girls, and Highlander: Endgame). And of those few I missed, the only one that can be considered a hit movie was What Lies Beneath*, which I somehow skipped (and yet managed to see Loser the same weekend). So I bought the DVD right around when it came out, and now, almost nine years later, I finally took the time to watch the damn thing (I believe it was my 2nd oldest unwatched DVD, after Pi).
Two things prompted me to finally watch it. One is that I’m a big fan of the band Breaking Benjamin, and their new album has a song called “What Lies Beneath” and every time I hear the song I think “Oh yeah I should watch that movie.” Two, I had to go on a plane, which meant I would for once have time for a movie that was not only over two hours itself, but also had a commentary track and other extras. So it’s sort of ironic that I ended up watching the film at my mom’s and the commentary at work, opting to spend most of my plane ride playing Mah Jonng on the back of the seat.
Anyway, the movie is pretty decent, though why it remains the top grossing supernatural horror movie of all time (because The Exorcist is... what? Slasher? Torture porn?) is a bit of a puzzler. It’s watchable, but incredibly generic, and even though it had been almost a decade since I had seen the trailer, I was able to put the entire film together after the first few minutes; half-remembered bits from the trailer being placed along a narrative I came up with and discovered was pretty close to accurate.
But still, again, it’s an OK enough movie. The problem is, Clark Gregg wrote the film more than likely assuming that it would be directed by someone who didn’t want to spoil the entire film in his trailers. Robert Zemeckis, by his own admission, likes to give everything away in his marketing, so you spend the first 80 or so minutes of the film waiting to get to the part that the trailer hinged itself on (that Ford had an affair with a girl who killed herself). I’ve never understood Zemeckis’ approach to this (he also had a Cast Away trailer partially built around Hanks returning to the world), but it’s a bit damaging here, as the first hour and change is built around painting Ford to be the perfect husband, suspecting some neighbors of murder, and a ghost who is presumably trying to cause Michelle Pfeiffer some harm.
Without the marketing or any other knowledge of the film, however, you would most likely really enjoy Zemeckis’ attempt to do a modern Hitchcock film. He certainly has the camerawork down pat - there are shots here that the Master would be proud of, and the climax (a paralyzed Pfeiffer about to drown in a slowly filling tub) seems like something right out of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or something. And the story has numerous elements of Rear Window, Suspicion, and Shadow of a Doubt to name a few, not to mention the Macguffin of the neighbors. However, Hitch never (as far as I can recall) delved into supernatural elements, which gives the film a bit of a surprise; the Hitchcock influence was so strong, I kept assuming that the ghost stuff would be explained away somehow, like maybe Ford and the other woman were plotting to drive Pfeiffer crazy so they could be together. But nope, it’s a real ghost, woo!
There was one part of the movie that baffled me though. Pfeiffer wants Ford to call the cops and have them come to the house so that he could confess. We can see him dialing three digits and then he goes through the whole spiel - “this is so and so, here’s my address, I have information on the missing woman, please come down,” etc, etc. But a few minutes later, Pfeiffer finds the phone and hits redial, and sees that he has dialed 411 instead of 911. But that means the guy on the information line has heard all of this stuff! He was probably like “What the hell are you talking about, dude? Either tell me a city and state, or fuck off!”
Also they have a dog that disappears for long stretches of the narrative. I would think a big dog would have a problem with its owners smashing each other around, but it remains MIA unless the movie needs a jump scare.
As said, the DVD has a commentary track, featuring Zemeckis and other crew members. They defend the marketing a bit, but largely focus on the nuts and bolts type of stuff. I wish Gregg had joined in, especially since he is primarily an actor; he wouldn’t rack up another writing credit until he adapted Choke (which he also directed) eight years later. Even in 2000, his perspective as an actor who wrote a script (for a film he didn’t appear in) would be kind of interesting. The only other extra of note is the HBO First Look, which is half crappy EPK drivel and half retrospective of Zemeckis’ career up until that point, which I enjoyed because he was a filmmaker I quite admired up to and including the same year’s Cast Away (this film was made solely for Zemeckis and crew to kill time while Tom Hanks lost weight and grew a beard for that film’s second act), but after that seemingly resigned himself to solely making creepy mo-cap films. Christ man, even Lucas still has a few real humans in his movies.
What say you?
*Strangely, the summer before I also saw just about everything, but one of the few movies I missed was The Haunting remake. Life used to be a lot different before HMAD - I wouldn’t go see horror movies unless I actually wanted to. For proof, I offer you tomorrow’s review of The Stepfather remake.