Movie Review: What Lies Below

December 4, 2020

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at [email protected] He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

For the first several scenes in What Lies Below, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into: Mena Suvari hamming it up, Trey Tucker emerging out of a lake in a swimsuit like something out of a romance novel, and so on. Once the film kicked in and things got bonkers, though, I was all in on Braden R. Duemmler’s mashup of horror, science fiction, thriller, and family drama elements.

Suvari — who does a fine job here, and it soon becomes obvious why her character acts the corny way she does in the opening scenes — plays Michelle Wells, a writer whose teenage daughter Liberty (Ema Horvath of The Mortuary Collection) has just finished her annual summer camp session. Liberty, viewers are told, is somewhat socially awkward and coming into her own about liking boys — which Michelle presses her on — and when she sees mom’s new boyfriend John Smith (Tucker of The Outpost) emerge from the lake near the Wells’ house, those supposedly dormant hormones come raging full force to the forefront.

Soon enough, though, Liberty’s physical attraction toward John takes a turn, thanks to some creepy actions on his part. When viewers think What Lies Below is headed in the direction of a psychosexual thriller, though, Duemmler begins adding twists and turns that head into a different direction. The film is a lot of fun, with loads of B-movie goodness on tap and surprises from Duemmler that are quite unexpected. His pacing is solid, peeling back layers with teasing reveals, and he shows that he is knowledgeable in the different genres that he tackles.

The three leads do an admirable job, though it takes a bit of time for their characters to develop enough to realize that the actors aren’t actually out to chew scenery, as viewers might initially think. Suvari shows a deft hand during her dramatic and all-out horror turns, and Horvath is fine throughout, investing her character with a “weirdo” edge but a good head on her shoulders for sensing that things aren’t right with John. Tucker plays John well, starting off with a sort of Keanu Reeves knock-off flavor that, once again, makes sense after certain information is uncovered, and doing a solid job after that. 

Usually, when someone tries to please everyone — whether in life or with movies — they often wind up pleasing few, but What Lies Below serves up enough head-scratching moments (in the good way) and unexpected reveals to make it a recommended watch for fans of aquatic horror, science-fiction horror, and other subgenres that I don’t want to spoil here. 

What Lies Below, from Vertical Entertainment, is available On Demand and Digital beginning December 4, 2020. 

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