What Lies Below review – too good to be true? Hook, line and sinker

February 23, 2021
Alix Turner 0
Film Reviews
3

Summary

Small scale mystery horror with big ideas. It may not look like much at first, but the payoff is worthwhile.

3

Summary

Small scale mystery horror with big ideas. It may not look like much at first, but the payoff is worthwhile.

Just as some film lovers have learned not to trust what critics write, I need to take the marketing write-ups I receive with a pinch of salt. The publicity described What Lies Below as “A Quiet Place meets Species”, and it… um, isn’t. Instead, it’s much more what The Deep Ones was trying to be, and (thankfully) more subtle: a modern homage to Lovecraftian horror of the water-logged variety.

Libby (Ema Horvath, Don’t Look Deeper), a sixteen-year-old archaeology nut, discovers that her mother Michelle (Mena Suvari, American Beauty) has met and totally fallen for a new man while she was at camp. Not just a new man: John (Trey Tucker, The Space Between Us) is young, intelligent and a downright Adonis. He was somehow the epitome of handsome, without being a muscular caricature (or maybe just walked under great lighting) and had the sort of easy charm that anyone could fall for. Or at least, at first. It didn’t take Libby too long to notice that John seemed to have more of an odd interest in the lake than scientific and to question the pull he had on Michelle.

Naturally, I’m not going to give you details, or what happens next; and despite the clues I may have dropped a couple of paragraphs ago there are some very effective surprises to be found. The feature debut of writer/director Braden R. Duemmler may well be a “little indie” as far as he is concerned, but it’s really rather good, in an unassuming way.

The cast of What Lies Below were well chosen and gave sound performances. I’d not come across Ema Horvath or Trey Tucker before, but Horvath navigated the line between concerned daughter and teen angst like a natural, and Tucker… Well, Tucker – or at least the John character he played – was definitely built for the so-called “female gaze”, and he too had some complexities to pull off. He was under the firm gaze of every female who appeared on screen and responded to each with a different hidden agenda. Not only was this a very interesting character to watch, but he must have been a difficult one to cast. If this was a big Hollywood film, I could see someone like Momoa or Hemsworth being cast to satirize the male bimbo, and a less well-known face helped avoid that. As for Mena Suvari, it was frankly wonderful to see her smile again (for a while), after the utterly miserable Paradise Cove.

As with many mystery/horror films, the story of What Lies Below would not have been enough without the gradual escalation of its creepy tone. At first, we have eerie lights and blurry personal boundaries, then it slips smoothly into sinister shower scenes and disturbing skin, with neon research in the basement in between. So yes, trust me: this is a horror film that manages to get nasty yet still avoiding anything too gory or explicit.

It was a pity to see the woman in her forties was not lucky in love (when are they ever?) and it’s becoming a regular horror trope that teenagers can see what’s going on when their parents don’t. On the other hand, I admired the amount that was left unexplained in this story – a comfortable middle ground between spoon-feeding and plot holes – and what I admired more was the woah! ending.

Signature Entertainment presents What Lies Below on Digital Platforms 22nd February

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