As the frigid winter months are now upon us, it can be helpful to cast our minds back to summer. A time full of campfires, trips to the lake, and … your mom’s unreasonably hot new boyfriend? What Lies Below (written and directed by Braden R. Duemmler) captures the spirit of those last waning days of summer while also weaving a subversive thread that is equal parts sexy and scary. While it feels like it ultimately fumbles at the finish line with a confused ending, the road to get there is twisted and largely entertaining.
What Lies Below follows 16-year-old Liberty (Ema Horvath) and her mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari), spending the end of the summer at their lake house. What Liberty thinks will be some quality mother-daughter bonding time soon becomes disrupted by the presence of Michelle’s new boyfriend, John Smith (Trey Tucker). Once John’s overwhelming charm and appeal begins to wear off, Liberty suspects something very sinister lurking below the surface.
We meet Liberty as her mom is picking her up from summer camp and right off the bat, one of this movie’s greatest strengths is on full display. We know exactly who these people are within seconds of meeting them. Horvath and Suvari work great together, and we understand their relationship and how they behave with one another in just a few lines. Because of that, it also allows us to see how this dynamic is disrupted by the entrance of Michelle’s boyfriend. And what an entrance it is. Wearing nothing but swim briefs, he emerges from the lake, dripping wet, surrounded by a heavenly glow, and we quickly get a sense of what role he fills in this film.
With such efficient character work taken care of early in the run time, the opportunity then presents itself for What Lies Below to dive headfirst into the action of the story. Rather than do that, however, this movie takes the slow burn approach which unfortunately leads to the first 30 minutes or so falling flat. Conversations get repeated multiple times and new plot lines are introduced with a lack of follow-through, but the eerie undertones present throughout do keep you hanging on to see just what will happen.
“…equal parts sexy and scary […with a] final act full of in your face horrors…”
It’s fair to say you may be able to see where this movie is going, but there is some really fun stuff along the way as it takes you there. For example, there is one scene involving Liberty and John spending some quality time together on the lake that really highlights the actors’ chemistry with each other. Plus, the scene ended with me genuinely screaming out loud in surprise. My favorite moments in What Lies Below are also the campiest, most absurd moments, and it makes me wish they would’ve leaned into that element more fully. There’s an almost palpable shift when the movie abandons its somewhat meandering start in favor of going completely off the rails, never to return and that is where the best parts of this movie lie.
Trey Tucker was a real standout as the perpetually shirtless boyfriend and he is particularly fantastic in the film’s bonkers final act. This final act is full of in your face horrors as well as some much more subtle, blink and you’ll miss it, peripheral scares that are so delightful once you catch them. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, this is where the ball gets dropped a bit. You’ll have to watch What Lies Below for yourself to see how it ends, but what I can tell you is that it is confusing as all get out. Things begin to spiral as we approach the conclusion and once all was said and done, I was left scratching my head. This is a shame because the build-up to the movie’s end is a lot of fun, and all that great set up deserves a more fitting finale.
What Lies Below is a movie that you feel like you have pinned down from the beginning but quickly you realize that there is so much more below the surface. I highly recommend not watching the trailer before giving this movie a shot, but regardless I can guarantee you’re in for a few surprises. Despite some structural disappointments and a messy ending, What Lies Below is well worth the ride. It’s a story that feels like it was made for movie nights and makes me long for the days of cramming all my friends on one couch to watch the latest freaky flick. If you go in looking for fun, you’re going to come out feeling satisfied (and with a new horror shower scene to add to the list of all-time greats).
What Lies Below is available on VOD and Digital December 4th. Let us kow what you think of this sexy, sci-fi thriller over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.