Dark House, Red Herrings

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Is the wind playing tricks? or does the front door need a locksmith's attention? Surely the supernatural wouldn't waste its forces making a door swing open whenever the lady of the house (Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer) walks by.

For an hour or so, What Lies Beneath dwells in this sort of quotidian creepiness. And as long as it does, director Robert Zemeckis' movie goes like a (haunted) house afire-mysterious moans from the heating system, the hint of a stalking presence, even some strange initials on Claire's computer screen. Everyone-especially her gruffly good-natured husband Norman (Harrison Ford)-says Claire is overwrought.

With good reason. The Spencers' expensively renovated nest is empty; their only child has just left home. Norman is temporarily neglectful; he's on deadline with an important research paper down at the university. And lonely Claire begins-nosily, obsessively-to focus on the mysterious, conceivably murderous doings of the young couple who have moved in next door.

They're red herrings, naturally. The Spencer house really is ghost-ridden. But once that fact is established, What Lies Beneath begins to succumb to a common genre problem. When the haunt ceases to be a set of eerie manifestations and begins to take on shape and form, all the spooky fun tends to drain out of these pictures. This one becomes a variation on the Fatal Attraction theme, but with a lot less plausibility. That's too bad, because the early wit of Clark Gregg's writing and some persuasive direction and playing are drowned out by the doomed, desperate search for a persuasive ending.