December 4th, 2020
MOVIE: WHAT LIES BELOW
STARRING: EMA HORVATH; MENA SUVARI; TREY TUCKER
DIRECTED BY: BRADEN R. DUEMMLER
AMovierGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
I always hope that the history of cinema is somehow rooted in the movies that are being made today and tomorrow. In Braden R. Duemmler’s What Lies Below, he seems to be inspired by the classic Universal monster pictures, which is a good thing. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Mummy, and the legendary Creature From the Black Lagoon. It is the latter that fits most with What Lies Below, but it also mixes a bit of the late 80’s slasher The Stepfather. This is a streamlined horror film, about Liberty (Ema Horvath), a high school girl arriving home from summer camp, and finding out that her mom (Mena Suvari) has a new love interest (Trey Tucker). Things move fast, where the new lothario seems to have his hooks into mom, impressing Liberty with his love of science, but obviously having something else in mind. What Lies Below may be rough around the edges, but it certainly has a lot of fun parts to sink into.
The only way for What Lies Below to work is if all three actors involved work in their roles and director Duemmler casts things just right. Start with lead actor Ema Horvath, who plays Liberty with a shy approach, clearly broken by her father’s passing, most likely picked on in school. She does not open up easily and when her mom picks her up from camp, things are a bit quiet at first, until mom (played by a delightful and flighty Suvari) starts to boast about the new man in her life. When Liberty is introduced to this man, appropriately named- John Smith (Tucker), she’s taken aback, not just by Tucker’s rugged good looks, but that he seems to make her mother genuinely happy. Something has to be up, right? Right.
For the production of What Lies Below, director and writer Duemmler makes things easier on himself. It’s a simple three person cast, spending time in a remote cabin, where the creepy events can unfold. When Liberty sees John drinking the sweat from his shirt that seems a bit odd, but then he’s walking into the lake at night. It’s explained away as just “sleepwalking”, but with every passing moment the new man seems to not be exactly what he is. He’s not human for sure, but what? Alien? Animal? Or something entirely different? Either way it is not good for Liberty, as this man has sunk his claws or err nails into her mom.
All three actors here have focused approaches to their roles as well. I would call it staying in their lanes. Horvath is the emerging star, carrying the role on her shoulders, never fully trusting, slowly aware of the differences in the way her mom is acting, and ultimately being the one trusting her intuition. It’s when John’s true self is revealed where What Lies Below grows, where it uses the budget it has to create illusions, both gnarly with gore, and out of frame to heighten our imagination. It’s obvious that with more budget and a brief rewrite to clean up continuity issues, What Lies Below would be hitting us with the kind of H.P. Lovecraft gore that this needed more of.
The final result though is an unexpected little horror hit. What Lies Below won’t impress the way Possessor or The Dark and the Wicked have this year, but it’s not lacking in spirit for the genre. There’s nervous tension, a mysterious mixture of science fiction, and an appreciation for the things that make smaller horror films worth it. Horvath is a force to be reckoned with and Braden Duemmler has a solid double in his first at bat. I just recommend to think before you jump right into this one, you’re never too sure What Lies Below.
WHAT LIES BELOW IS AVAILABLE ON DEMAND THIS WEEKEND- DECEMBER 4TH
Written by: Leo Brady