What Lies Below (2020) Low Expectations is a Shockingly Fun Film
Title: What Lies Below
First Wide Release: December 4, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Braden R. Duemmler
Writer: Braden R. Duemmler
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Starring: Ema Horvath, Mena Suvari, Trey Tucker
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Libby (Ema Horvath) is picked up from summer camp by her loving yet quirky mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari), when she quickly finds out that mom has started dating again. Not only that, but she has a new boyfriend named John (Trey Tucker) As they get acquainted, Libby finds herself at first attracted to the handsome suiter until he starts exhibiting some strange behaviors. After a few incidents that are too odd to brush off, Libby begins suspecting that John might not just be a creepy guy but someone or something altogether more terrifying.
A hazy journey into teenage paranoia, What Lies Below is a crafty indie sci-fi horror that delivers solid scares and entertainment.
Given the largely negative reviews, I wasn’t sure what to expect with What Lies Below. It is a nice surprise to see that it isn’t as bad as some claim it to be. The film does a few great things right away. Libby’s fascination turning to distrust as soon as John begins acting inappropriately is an excellent way of setting up the film. All too often in teen horror with similar plots, the child or teenager simply hates the parent’s new spouse or partner without any reason. This may be true to life, but it’s not a particularly compelling trope in fiction, at least to me. It’s realistic and reasonable for Libby to be apprehensive as soon as she is given reason to be.
While we are talking about Libby, we have to give kudos to Ema Horvath, and truly the whole cast for their performances. Horvath perfectly captures the energy of a shy yet protective teenage girl, even if she doesn’t exactly look the part. From her voice to her body language, she projects everything so authentically that it makes the film feel even more intense. Trey Tucker strikes the balance between charming, awkward, and intimidating with fluidity in his portrayal of John. Honestly, I could feel him manipulating me through the screen! And last but certainly not least, Mena Suvari plays an excellently quirky and over-the-top mom who is in over her head with the perfect stranger.
It’s story is complemented by surprisingly charming slate of technical work. I love the sound design used towards the end, particularly for John’s voice. Sure, it’s trope-y but I fell for it. The film is washed in bright, neon colors that make the action pop even more than it should. Its effects team does some great work at transforming the film into something grotesque and creepy. A culminating shot of characters limping in the woods is the pinnacle of these achievements in my opinion.
My biggest complaints about What Lies Below are mostly steeped into the fact that it isn’t particularly affecting. It’s largely just fine. Aside from some obvious pacing issues in the second act and its refusal to give explanations for a myriad of interesting ideas, to me, it doesn’t have much to dock. Its biggest sin is that it isn’t anything special and will likely be forgotten a few months after release.
It’s pared down horror with few characters and locations, which may make it feel cheap, but its scope never suffers from it. I do wish we had more time spent with John. Obviously, ambiguity is creepy, but there is so much to his character and his motives that is unexplored here which is criminal in my opinion. The ending hits the mark though, so I suppose that it is forgivable enough.
It never really gets deep enough into its premise to make a true splash, but What Lies Below still hits all the right beats of a teen scream to be worthy of a watch. It neither tries to be too intellectual nor too shocking to cater to a more casual audience. It is a very easy watch and is an excellent choice for curious folks hoping to get more acclimated to the genre who may be more intimidated by the classics and the modern greats. Take a dive into this dark and surprisingly tense sci-fi steamer if you are looking for something to stream later in the evening.
Overall Score? 6/10