Netflix has a poor track record with its horror movie selection. Despite its continued investment in original content, the streaming giant seems disinterested in producing new horror titles. And the slate of available titles rarely updates from month to month. Instead, Netflix seems content go grind out insipid psychological thrillers like its recent dud, Deadly Illusions. So when What Lies Below popped up on Netflix its generic title and synopsis sounded like more of the same. But this little-seen movie from 2020 has stormed up Netflix’s charts and sparked quite a bit of conversation around its ending. Though What Lies Below has divided audiences, critics seem a little more impressed.
After a summer away at camp, Liberty (Libby) returns home to learn that her mother has a new boyfriend, John. Initially, John seems perfect – attractive, muscular, kind, and intelligent. And like Libby, John’s a bit quirky. He claims to be a marine biologist studying ways to help freshwater fish adapt to saltwater. But Libby slowly grows suspicious as John’s quirks take on more ominous tones. Yet in spite of Libby’s fears, her mother, Michelle, announces she is marrying John. As Libby desperately tries to dissuade her mom from getting married, John’s secret
What Lies Below Shrugs Off a Generic Title for Lovecraftian Horror
Any concerns that What Lies Below will be another Netflix redux thriller like Bad Match or Fatal Affair fade quickly. From its opening minutes, writer and director Braden R Duemmler shows he’s more interested in an atmospheric mix of horror and science fiction. Aside from its Dirty John ‘Mr Right Turned Wrong’ set-up, Duemmler takes its inspiration from Lovecraftian horror. Without spoiling too much, What Lies Below morphs from familiar mystery into truly strange territory that loosely recalls Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth. As the story progresses, the story takes increasingly strange turns, offering little exposition. Duemmler leaves a few bread crumbs along the way to help piece things together. But if its bleak ending frustrates viewers, it’s an earned twist that’s certain to spark a lot of discussion.
…What Lies Below shares more DNA with Mandy or Color Out Of Space than 90s psychological thrillers.
Where What Lies Below diverges from other Netflix thrillers is its deliberate slow burn and surrealist approach. In terms of style, What Lies Below shares more DNA with Mandy or Color Out Of Space than 90s psychological thrillers. That is, Duemmler bathes his nighttime scenes in neon colours, thus adding a nightmarish quality to the proceedings. Everything here – from occasionally jarring editing to a haunting synth score – drops you into what feels like a lucid dream.
What Lies Below Prefers Uneasy Tension Over Shocks
Don’t go into What Lies Below expecting jumps scares. As described above, Duemmler opts for deliberate pacing and mood over theatrical frights. Most of the movie settles into a consistently maintained feeling of uneasy dread. Specifically, What Lies Below is scariest when it eases into drawn out uncomfortable moments. An awkward moment between John and Libby in a boat is subtly jarring. Later, when John stands outside the shower, just inches away from Libby on the other side of the curtain, there’s a tension that outlasts the scene’s length. As What Lies Below descends into its mind-twisting finale, Duemmler continues to rely on quietly unnerving images.
Most of the movie settles into a consistently maintained feeling of uneasy dread.
By and large, What Lies Below confines its story to its remote location with a small cast. As Libby, Ema Horvath (The Gallows Act II) projects a perfect balance of awkward precociousness and protective daughter. She anchors the movie with a believable performance and relationship with her onscreen mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari). Relative newcomer Trey Tucker impress with what’s best described as a quietly strange performance befitting of his character. But it’s the dynamic between mother and daughter that adds another layer to the movie. Though it’s a smaller part of the movie, What Lies Below tackles gaslighting and the skepticism that confronts victims from even their closest family and friends.
What Lies Below Does More Than Exceed Low Expectations … It Stands on Its Own as a Solid Horror Movie
Don’t let its run-of-the mills title mislead you. What Lies Below is a surprisingly effective piece of Lovecraftian horror. With an emphasis on atmosphere and a twist into surreal storytelling, What Lies Below does more than just exceed expectations. It stands out as a provocative mix of science fiction and horror that’s confident enough to leave you with more questions than answers. Arguably, audiences will be divided on its ending. Currently, What Lies Below has an unjustifiably low rating that’s hardly indicative of its quality. But Lovecraft fans who don’t mind a bit of ambiguity may find quite a bit to like about his latest Netflix offfering.