What Lies Beneath (2000)

When a happily married woman becomes convinced that her house is haunted, she delves into the harsh truths hidden in her own lost memories as well as in her husband’s past. Using everything from Ouija boards to hair-locks, she insists on uncovering the identity of the ghost which haunts her, and more importantly, its motives.




Full plot:
In the beginning of “What Lies Beneath” from 2000, Claire Spencer, a former musician who recently moved to Vermont, gets out of her bathtub and grabs a hairdryer, which stops working due to a short power outage. She wakes up her daughter, Caitlin, and goes to make waffles. She is met by her husband, Norman Spencer, a university research scientist. Besides themselves and Caitlin, their only child, only their dog, Cooper, resides in their big house, which they inherited from Norman’s father, Dr. Wendell James Spencer, a famous mathematician who recently died (aged 77). Norman and Claire are packing on of their two cars to bring Caitlin to her new college, where she is also going to live hereafter. After having brought her to the college, Claire quickly begins to miss her daughter, and begins to sit and looks at photo-albums in the attic. When some sheets fall out of an album, she finds an insurance claim photo of a totaled car, which restores some of her memory which she lost in the car-crash which happened roughly a year ago.

To avoid emotional overload, get goes out in her garden to cool down. Hears suddenly hears a woman sobbing in the adjacent garden. New neighbors have recently moved in: Mary & Warren Feur. When she peaks into their garden she is spotted by the sobbing Mary.

Mary is very frustrated and inarticulate, and when her husband, Warren, arrives in his car, she asks Claire to leave, so Claire suspects straightaway that Mary has been beaten up by her husband.

Claire later goes to the neighbor’s house with a welcome-basket but takes it home since no one is home. When she returns to her house, Jody, an old friend of hers, is waiting for her in the driveway. Jody just wanted an informal talk and leaves shortly after.

At night, while Claire is sitting at her computer, she experiences another power outage, and from her window, she sees Warren bring what looks like a body bag to his car, but when she calls Norman to the window, both Warren and the car is gone.

Next day, Claire experiences the main door opening and closing by itself. When she closes an open window, a framed picture falls from a desk onto the floor. She puts it back on the desk without further ado, but notices that the main door is again opened.

Later, while walking with Cooper (the dog) on the small wharf which connects her garden to a large, adjacent lake, she notices that Cooper does not want to go near the water, which she says is unusual. For a moment, she believes she sees the vague print of a human face in the water.

Late in the evening, the garden becomes foggy and she cannot find Cooper. The main door again opens by itself, and when she goes inside, a set of stereo-speakers turns on and off by itself, and she begins to feel increasingly uneasy.

Claire drives to Norman’s office at the university, where a group of PhD-students are busily conducting experiments with Halothane (a dissociative hallucinogen capable of paralyzing a patient’s motor-functions while leaving the patient fully conscious).

Norman is however not convinced that a haunting is taking place, and when they get back home, he furthermore informs Claire that he has been told by a colleague that Warren Feur is completely harmless.

Next day, the main door has again opened by itself, and when Claire closes it, the same framed picture (which fell off the desk earlier) falls again so that its glass breaks.

Claire tries again to visit her new neighbors with the welcome-basket. On their porch, she finds a woman’s sandal with blood on. Warren Feur then comes out of the door. He thanks her for the basket but tells her that he is about to leave the house in a hurry.

In the evening, Claire spies on Warren with a pair of binoculars and sees how Warren throws out the flowers in the basket but keeps the wine. She turns around and gets surprised by Norman, who is back from work.

They leave the house for a dinner in town with Norman’s colleague, Dr. Stan Powell. Powell has brought a date, Elena, and discovers that Claire and Elena know each other quite well from their school-years. They also learn about Michael, Claire’s first husband, who is now deceased. He was a musician too, and he and Claire used to play together at concerts.

Back home, Claire steps on a glass-shard from the broken picture. This leads her to look down into the register (floor-vent), from which she fishes out and ornate key which doesn’t fit into any of the furniture in the house.

Claire is surprised to discover steam coming from the bathroom, and when she looks into the bathtub, which has bafflingly filled itself with water, she sees woman’s face next to her own in the water’s reflection.

To cope with this, Claire talks to a psychologist and tells him about her problems with insomnia and anxiety. She also tells him that she saw a ghost vaguely, resembling herself but with green eyes, and that she might already have figured out the identity of the ghost (she thinks that Warren has killed his wife Mary).

Claire and Jody subsequently arranges a séance in the bathroom where Claire saw the ghostly reflection. They use a Ouija board and the blood-stained sandal which Claire stole from the neighbors’ porch. Their candlelight quickly dims until it is gone and the Ouija board begins shake. Cooper suddenly runs into the room and interrupts the séance.

A while later Claire waves Jody goodbye outside and goes back into the house. Her computer turns on by itself and she sees steam coming from bathroom again. She looks for the spectral reflection in the water again but the reflection disappears before she notices it. When asks the ghost what it wants, it simply replies “you know”. She runs downstairs and sees that her computer-screen keeps repeating the initials “MEF”.

She drives to Norman’s office at the university again and says that she is convinced that Warren has killed Mary. Claire also spots Warren at the university and confronts him about murdering his wife, however, Mary swiftly walks into the confrontation herself, proving that she is of course not dead.

Claire talks to the psychologist again, telling him that her husband, Norman is away for work a lot, but that she does not believe that her recent trouble stems from problems in her marriage.

When she gets home, she finds that Jody has left a present for her: It’s a book titled “Witchcraft, Ghosts and Alchemy” and is meant partially to be taken as a joke. In the house, the same picture falls and breaks again. It contains a cut out newspaper-excerpt, showing how the “Vermont Society” hands Norman a reward for his research within genetics, but this time, she notices that the other side of the excerpt tells of a “missing girl” with the in the initials “MEF”.

A quick internet-search reveals that the missing girl’s name is Madison Elizabeth Frank, and Claire can see on the police-photo that this is indeed the face of the haunter. When she shows Norman the case, he gets angry and she realizes that she cannot talk to him about it, so she identifies Madison’s mother and pays her a visit. Claire is shown to Madison’s old room, where she sees the same picture which the police used for their search, whereon Madison wears a conspicuous necklace. Claire then steals a braided lock of hair from the Madison’s room (for use in her next planned séance).

When Norman comes home, she accuses him of having had an affair with one of his students (i.e., Madison) approximately a year ago, and he admits this to be true. She also talks to Jody, who partially confirms the affair but had kept it secret from Claire for the time being out of fear that she would turn suicidal and hurt herself.

Claire returns home the next day to find Norman in the bathtub with a short-circuited hairdryer. She calls an ambulance, but Norman recovers in the house. Claire asks him whether he had anything to do with Madison’s disappearance, and he explains that after he tried to break off their affair, Madison threatened to kill herself OR kill Claire. Within short time, she then mysteriously disappeared.

Claire believes that Madison’s ghost threw the hairdryer in the bathtub, but Norman claims that it was an accident. After Claire has gone to the bedroom, Norman finds the book Jody gave her. He then sees Claire walking out to the wharf. She jumps into the water with Madison’s braid in her hand. At the bottom of the lake, she sees a jewelry box, but Norman pulls her up to rescue her. They then burn Madison’s braid in their fireplace. Claire concludes that the haunting has stopped and celebrates it by playing her old cello. They then go sail a boat comically named “Good Genes” to relax.

Click here to unfold the remaining story (SPOILER WARNING)

While in the bathtub, Claire’s bathrobe falls off a hook unprovoked so that the mysterious, ornate key, seen earlier, falls out. Claire discovers that it belongs to the jewelry box she saw at the bottom of the lake, so she fishes up the box. In it lies the necklace which Madison was wearing at the police-photo.

When she confronts Norman about the box and the key, he tells her that Madison killed herself in the house, but he kept it secret to not spread rumors that would harm his career. Claire insists that he call the police and tell them what he knows so that the Madison-case can be closed. He pretends to do so, while she puts on Madison’s necklace and heads upstairs.

When she finds out that he did not call the police at all, Norman attacks her with a cloth soaked in Halothane, so that her body gets paralyzed. He explains that Madison was going to tell the dean of the university about their affair, so he drowned her.

Norman then puts Claire in the bathtub, hoping that she will drown as well. When he discovers that Claire is wearing Madison’s necklace, He sees a vision of Madison’s dead face and slips on the wet floor, hitting his head on the bathroom sink. He passes out from this.

Meanwhile, Claire recovers as the effect of the Halothane wears off. Regaining control over her limbs, she manages to pull out the cork in the bathtub and close the tap. Crawling out of the bathtub, she sees that Norman is no longer present. She tries to use the phone but Norman has cut the cable. Downstairs, she discovers that Norman is lying motionlessly in the living room, so she takes his car-keys and runs to his car. Behind her, she sees that he is getting up from the floor, so she quickly starts the car and drives off.

The car is a pickup truck so Norman manages to latch on to its open rear. He breaks the back window and attacks her as she’s driving. The car therefore goes over the bridge and sinks into the water. Claire tries to swim out and up but Norman, whose foot is trapped in the car, holds her down, hoping that they will both drown. Meanwhile, Madison’s drifting corpse comes alive for a short moment to free Claire of Norman’s grasp. Claire then swims to the surface while Norman remains stuck in the car and drowns.

Claire is then seen a while after this incident, putting a rose by Madison’s headstone. The screen fades out with a final, elusive image of Madison’s face.

Amber Valletta as Madison Elizabeth Frank
Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer
Harrison Ford as Norman Spencer
Katharine Towne as Caitlin Spencer
James Remar as Warren Feur
Miranda Otto as Mary Feur
Diana Scarwid as Jody
Wendy Crewson as Elena
Ray Baker Stan Powell
Joe Morton Dr. Drayton

Robert Zemeckis

Clark Gregg & Sarah Kernochan

What Lies Beneath (2000) on IMDB

One thought on “What Lies Beneath (2000)

  1. Do you think Claire ever moved back to her” haunted house” or did she sell everything and find another home! Also did she ever tell Caitlen what happened?

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