What Lies Below (2020) Review
We all dream about finding Ms. or Mr. Perfect. But what happens when somebody finds Mr. Too Perfect? That’s the quandary at the center of writer/director Braden R. Duemmler’s debut feature, What Lies Below. What do you do when you meet someone who seems not only too good to be true, but too good to be real? And what if that someone has hooked up with your mother?
Liberty (Ema Horvath, The Gallows Act II, The Mortuary Collection) returns home from two months at camp to find a big surprise waiting for her. Her mother Michelle (Mena Suvari, The Accursed, Apparition) has a new boyfriend, John Smith (Trey Tucker, The Outpost). He’s incredibly handsome, an aquatic geneticist, and already moved in.
Liberty’s first reaction is to develop a huge crush on him. And troublingly enough, he seems to return her interest. But as time goes on, she starts to see other, more suspicious things about him. Has her mother really gotten as lucky as it seems?
The first impression What Lies Below gave me was that it was The Stepfather with added sexual tension. Just the man’s name, the universal alias John Smith, gives it away that he isn’t who he claims to be. Short of calling him John Doe or maybe John Galt, they couldn’t have made it more obvious.
“While writing the screenplay, I aspired to tell a story that was not just Horror, or Sci-Fi, or Family Drama, or Mystery, or Teenage Angst, but rather all at once. A film that navigates these genres by grounding the narrative in its characters, specifically, the perspective of our female protagonist”Braden R. Duemmler
The film does try to inject some uncertainty into just what is going on. Is John just a little into his research? Is he getting a little too into both mother and daughter? Or is it something even stranger? A particularly creepy shot of John just outside of Liberty’s shower manages to muddy things even further. This could, and probably should, have been milked for more suspense. Unfortunately, it’s all moot, as the film’s publicity gives it away. And around the film halfway points, What Lies Below tips its hand and lets us know John is indeed too good to be true. From there, the rest of the details are easy to fill in based on what we’ve already seen.
Despite that, and What Lies Below does build up the suspense through the film’s last act. There’s a lot of running around in the dark and some rather horrifying revelations. Granted, they’re mostly implied rather than shown, probably due to what the effects would have cost. There’s enough shown and heard though to get the point across and let your imagination fill in the blanks.
Mena Suvari and Ema Horvath, as expected, do excellent jobs as mother and daughter. But the real surprise was the fairly unknown Tucker. He has to go from magnetic when we first see him walking out of the lake to weird but still appealing as Liberty gets to know him. And then downright scary when his true nature and intent are revealed. I’ll be curious to see what he does next.
What Lies Below is an enjoyable creature feature that just falls a bit short of its potential. I’d have loved to have seen John’s true form. And a bit more background on their origins would have been a big help. But it’s still effective and builds to an ending that stayed in my head for a while.
Vertical Entertainment will release What Lies Below On Demand and Digital on December 4th.