The first half of ‘What Lies Below’ feels like a by-the-numbers horror movie, yet it comes together as an original piece of storytelling towards the end.
Frankly, the picture would have been better off as a television series to better expand on its unique end-of-film proposition.
This horror movie review contains spoilers for What Lies Below.
A truly unique sci-fi twist almost at the conclusion of What Lies Below rescues it from the depths to make you think long after the credits roll. But the film’s commoner first half focus about a teenager’s crush on her mother’s boyfriend anchor it from surfacing to cult classic status.
What Lies Below attempted to integrate too many story lines at once, some good, some not so good. A jack of all trades at times. It ended up stifling the potential of the individual narratives by not giving them enough time to flourish.
Michelle Wells stands on her own as a character
For example, Mena Suvari, who plays Michelle Wells in the film, has an attention capturing moment when she describes how her father never wanted her. Michelle’s daughter Liberty ‘Libby’ Wells, played by Ema Horvath, had been grandstanding morally over her deceased grandfather only loving her rather than her mother because Libby wasn’t ‘lazy’.
It’s then Michelle reveals she’d discovered her father’s divorce papers in the attic after his untimely passing. In the divorce papers her father (Liberty’s grandfather) writes, ‘You can have Michelle, I want Mark.’ That’s an entire movie right there.
Michelle is a sad figure throughout What Lies Below, terrified her boyfriend/fiancee John (Smith), played by Trey Tucker, will leave her if he discovers she’s 42 instead of 35 years old. She constantly describes John as being the only man who ever loved her.
When daughter Libby comments there’s something wrong with him, her mother responds, “Of course there’s something wrong with him! He loves me!” Michelle also refuses to hear her daughter’s accusations of inappropriate behavior towards her… Instead countering that Libby is trying to sabotage her relationship.
Most of the first half of What Lies Below however, focuses on Libby’s crush on John. The movie version of clickbait.
An introverted, bookworm teenager gets a crush on her mother’s ‘perfect’ Mr. Right and he seems to return interest subtly. Slowly, Libby discovers John is not what he seems. That it’s not all about the book cover.
It’s ironically the subtle flirtatious cues like when John describes researching how aquatic animals can live in salt water that end up being the film’s most important. Despite looking like overt flirting at breakfast, this moment ends up being key to What Lies Below’s big twist.
John later shows Libby a parasitic creature he studies in the basement that can survive both salt water and fresh water. Another clue. John also declines a soda Libby brought him, citing the salt content and issues with his ‘ticker’. Starting to get the picture?
It’s actually not that immediately obvious. After John describes the hideous parasite as beautiful, Libby calls him weird but ‘cool’.
To cut to the chase, John ends up being some kind of amphibian parasitic creature preying on Michelle, Libby, and Libby’s BFF Marley [Haskiri Velazquez] for its survival. His research team look exactly like him and seem to do likewise with other single mothers. In all honesty, unique or not the parasitic scenes are quite gross in a ‘wish I hadn’t seen that’ kind of way. Especially, what appears to be Michelle’s coerced birth scene.
There’s also a moment on the boat we won’t describe here that is not only gross but takes the film down from being taken seriously. More of a regular Friday horror flick pre-COVID.
However, Libby throwing salt at John to hurt him is clever. The whole sci-fi evolution aspect comes out of left field at first but comes together when you double take the earlier scenes. What seemed like typically flirting as mentioned before were all clues between the lines. There was meaning there.
TV would have been a better platform
What Lies Below simply tries to pile too much into one movie. A single mother desperately trying to connect to her daughter and find someone who will love her. The quite introverted teenager having a crush on her mother’s boyfriend.
A parasitic male version of a succubus-like creature trying to research its own survival. The first one is a serious movie affair, the last is original, and yet the middle clickbait takes up the bulk of this film.
The big twist is surprising and clever (though pretty gross at times) so this movie gets points for originality. What Lies Below is a mixed bag… But ultimately serves of a reminder that people choose to ignore irregularities in their romantic interests for superficial reasons.
There’s a moment where Michelle slaps her daughter and asks John if he’s okay after Libby desperately tries to take her away. She doesn’t believe her own daughter’s accusations.
There’s something about that scene that has stronger implications. It’s unfortunate the film depended too much on the teen/step-dad crush dynamic. There was better material to work with.
Whether it was the mother protecting her boyfriend or the sci-fi approach. A serialized line of episodes would have allowed for better plot development.
– What Lies Below is now available on Digital platforms and On-Demand. You can rent or purchase the film on Amazon.
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