The Soothing Autumnal Chill of What Lies Beneath

Last October I wrote about why I love What Lies Beneath (2000), a film that’s long been an annual Halloween season watch for me. It’s beyond perfect for this time of year, especially with its autumn-in-New-England setting. Offering an exquisite lead turn by Michelle Pfeiffer, as a woman on edge trying to unravel a mystery with ties to her husband (Harrison Ford, in a delightfully exasperated performance), Robert Zemekis’s What Lies Beneath is pure catnip for Pfeiffer pfans and fans of the best season of the year, autumn.

Beyond Michelle’s riveting performance as Claire Spencer—this is her movie and she owns every minute of it—the film’s aesthetic is another key to the film’s success. After opening at the end of summer, it segues into fall, replete with scenic Vermont locations—including the picturesque banks of Lake Champlain—and beautiful set designs that capture just the right mood for an autumnal ghost story. Spooky goings on or not, I want to live inside Claire’s world of cool blues and slate grays, to bask in its multicolored hues of sumptuous fall foliage. What Lies Beneath is a mood movie, the kind I crave during October, when the air turns chilly and the leaves change color before fluttering down from the trees to the grass and sidewalks below.

At one point, the film’s established color palette is set ablaze during a possession-aided seduction scene. Having conjured the spirit of the woman haunting her house, Claire dons a fiery red dress signifying heat, passion, desire. Her crimson attire, along with the warm, golden glow of the candle lit scene, offers a brief respite from the film’s fall chill. And yet still, Claire’s attire evokes a vibrant color often found in October foliage.

A friend once said he can’t get enough of Michelle doing her gardening and staring pensively out windows in What Lies Beneath. I can’t either. In some ways it’s as close to a giallo role as Michelle’s ever had—albeit within a supernatural ghost story setting—what with Claire’s fears being summarily dismissed by her condescending husband, who makes her feel she’s imagining everything. It’s such a mesmerizing and soothing film, thanks in no small part to its focus on Michelle’s expressive, haunting gaze, but also because of immaculate set design and overall commitment to an autumnal aesthetic that makes it essential October viewing.

3 thoughts on “The Soothing Autumnal Chill of What Lies Beneath

  1. This movie definitely captures that spooky fall mood. I love the colors, the setting, the actors, and the story….just a great movie to revisit with someone special!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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