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What Lies Beneath is a 2000 supernatural thriller/horror film by film director Robert Zemeckis. It tells the story of a housewife who finds her home is haunted. The film stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as Norman and Claire Spencer.


Claire Spencer (Michelle Pfeiffer) moves to Vermontmarker after a serious car accident leaves gaps in her memory. She is married to the renowned scientist Dr. Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford). Claire overhears her neighbor, Mary Feur (Miranda Otto) sobbing one day. Norman reassures Claire, but when she wakes in the middle of the night, Claire sees Mary's husband Warren (James Remar) dragging what looks like a body bag out of the house.

Claire decides to investigate by taking a basket of flowers and wine to the house as a "Welcome Gift". After nobody answers the door she walks round the side of the house and makes a startling discovery; a woman's sandal with a dark stain on it. Warren returns as she is leaving the basket on his doorstep, and Claire explains why she was there and asks where Mary is. Warren gives a vague answer which leaves Claire even more worried.

Mysterious events begin happening when Claire is alone in the house—falling pictures, opening and closing doors, a shadowy reflection in the bathwater—and Claire then believes that Mary is dead, and is now haunting her. Norman thinks that Claire is feeling a bit empty since their daughter has left for college, and is only seeking attention. Desperate for closure, Claire invites her best friend Jody to join her for a séance in her bathroom where she had seen the reflection of Mary. Claire produces the sandal she had earlier taken from Mary's house, and places it on the table. The Ouija board does not move, but a candle starts to flicker, then goes out. The dial on the Ouija board then starts to move slowly from M to F.

Claire returns to Norman's workplace, where she informs Norman of what she and Jody had done. Norman tells her that she is going crazy, and decides to take her home. As they are crossing a bridge, they meet Warren, and Claire accuses him of killing Mary. Warren is confused, as a woman introducing herself as his wife is nearby.

When Claire is once again downstairs in the dark, the picture falls off the windowsill again, and Claire removes the newspaper cutting from the broken frame and notices a partial missing person report on the back of the cutting, for Madison Elizabeth. Claire finds a missing person report for Madison Elizabeth Frank, a student at the university where Norman had been a lecturer and visits Madison's mother.

Claire performs a ritual with the lock of hair she found at Madison's mother's house, which allows Madison to possess her and seduce Norman when he returns home from work. Norman, frightened by comments Madison/Claire has made, pushes "Madison", causing her to drop the lock of hair and break the connection. Claire's memory begins to return and she recalls that she'd caught Norman with Madison. She is distraught and goes to her friend's house, but decides to go home. He denies ever having been in Adamant, but Claire visits the town and finds Madison's jewellery box in a shop.

Norman confesses that he did have a brief relationship with Madison, but realized quickly that he loved Claire too much to leave her. Madison, who was unstable, threatened to tell Claire or possibly kill her. Shortly thereafter, Norman visited Madison, only to find her dead of an overdose with a letter to Claire. He burned the letter and pushed Madison, in her car, into the lake. He and Claire agree he should call the police now, which he seems to do before going to take a shower. As Claire realizes that the number her husband called is not that of the police, Norman sedates her and places her into the filling bathtub, expecting her to drown. He leans over her to give her one final kiss, and recognizes the pendant around her neck. He collapses against the mirror and sinks to the floor.

Claire, recovering from the sedative, crawls out of the bath and crawls downstairs. The phone has been disconnected, so she starts to drive somewhere with cell phone reception, passing Norman's body as she leaves the house. Norman is only stunned, chases her and jumps into the truck when she pauses on a bridge. The truck veers off the bridge into the lake into which Norman pushed Madison's car. Norman grabs Claire's leg so that she cannot escape, but the paranormal figure grabs Norman, dragging him to the bottom of the lake, and making him let go of her leg so she can float to the top and be safe.

One year later, it is Winter and Claire is seen placing a single red rose on the grave of Madison Elizabeth Frank, but not the grave of Norman. Then, the camera begins to pan out and an image of Madison's face is seen in the snow, just as it was seen in the bathtub.



DVD release

What Lies Beneath was released on VHS and DVD on January 30, 2001. The DVD of the film was presented in anamorphic widescreen in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.


  • Commentary from director Robert Zemeckis
  • HBO's First Look Behind-The-Scenes Featurette
  • Production notes
  • Detailed cast & filmmaker bios
  • Original theatrical trailer


The soundtrack to the film was released on July 25, 2000 and featured the film's entire instrumental score.

Release and reaction

Alternate poster
Budgeted at over $90,000,000, What Lies Beneath was released on July 21, 2000 at #1 at the box office, grossing just under $30 million. It continued strongly throughout the summer of 2000, and ended up grossing over $155 million in the United States, and nearly $300 million worldwide.

The film met negative to mixed reviews from critics, and has gauged 45% approvals from Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Roger Ebert noted in his review that he felt the problem with Zemeckis' desire to direct a Hitchcock-ian film was to involve the supernatural, which he believes to be something Alfred Hitchcock would never have done.

Director Zemeckis told Roger Ebert that he believed audiences wanted to know everything about a movie before they saw it, which is why the trailers for his year 2000 movies What Lies Beneath and Cast Away both revealed fundamental "spoilers" for the films. In the case of What Lies Beneath, the trailer tells of Norman's betrayal, which is a twist that is not revealed in the film until after an hour of red herring mis-direction.


  2. In the Rosemary's Baby DVD featurette, it is mentioned that the film was offered to Hitchcock, and he declined because it involved the supernatural.

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