‘What lies below’? Too bad you never really find out…
Taking cues from a range of modern and traditional genre movies ‘What lies Below’ delivers a simple but engaging ‘body snatcher-esk’ story, with an ecological edge. Strong in delivery, but notably absent in violence or viscera, this film tries really hard, but struggles to find its mark.
The plot follows Liberty, a teenage girl returning to her lakeside home to find her mother has shacked up with a hunky new fella. Initially (and through some excruciatingly sickly-sweet exposition) the new guy, John, seems like a decent enough catch being both sensitive to the young girls’ feelings regarding his intrusion into the family, and satisfying her mother both emotionally and physically (a point she seems oddly keen to labour – to her daughter?!) Anyhow, with John explaining he is a marine biologist studying salinity impact on the lake fauna, it’s not long before he starts acting, well ‘odd’. Disappearing into the lake at night, licking menstrual blood, clothes sniffing and seemingly bewitching anyone he comes in contact with; needless to say, Liberty isn’t fooled, but can she protect her mother before it’s too late.
Production wise ‘What Lies Below’ is on point. The rural location looks stunning, the cast do a great job of fulfilling generic, but relatable roles. Despite my reservations about the overly ‘teeny’ slanted opening, the film grabbed me as the plot got going. There were some truly interesting little set pieces and plot development which kept my attention, and although the ecology climate-change ergo salinity-change was back of the fag-packet type of stuff, it was an interesting tie-in, nevertheless. There’s a Lovecraftian vibe running throughout, even if it’s not openly referenced, which I think helps the film finds its place within its genre. Even though there wasn’t a great deal going on horror wise, the interactions between the characters – John’s odd habits, the mothers smitten perspective and their clashes with Liberty’s open-mindedness – helped to generate some tension and atmosphere; despite their being no particular threat present.
Sadly though, the tension and strong performances could only carry the film so far, and without any escalation in gore, the much-needed creature effects or exposition around the true intentions of the film’s antagonist, the plot just, well fizzles out.
Towards the end of the movie there are some attempts to show some limited creature effects, a humanoid aquatic foot, a less than comfortable birthing scene and then, right at the film’s conclusion, some reality bending sci-fi elements. Sadly for me, all of these, whilst far from disastrous, only really succeeded to betray a limited budget, something up to this point the film had hidden well due to careful writing and the aforementioned performances.
Even the ending, whilst arguably the most engaging part of the movie, certainly from a visual perspective, is a bit jarring in contrast to the relatively subtle sinister events that had come prior.
Overall ‘What Lies Below’ is a film which left me with mixed feelings, on the one hand the cast delivered some strong performances, the story was engaging with a great attention to detail with regards to characterisation and tension in its first half, but beyond that, it just didn’t really deliver what it needed to by its conclusion. That said, I also did kind of enjoy it. I think I would possibly recommend it to a younger audience and/or perhaps to someone that likes the concept and in the mood for something a bit more subtle and creepy, but for fans of body horror, or creature movies in general, there are better.