At first glance, WHAT LIES BELOW (written and directed by Braeden R. Duemmler) appears to be a familiar take on the dread just out of view that horror fans have seen creep out of the depths countless times before: The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Jaws to name a few.

The opening scene feels like something we’ve seen many times before, as 16 year old Liberty (Ema Horvath) deflects prodding from her mother Michelle (Mena Suvari) about potential crushes while a song about loving boys blasts from the radio, amplifying the awkward silences on the ride home from Liberty’s archaeology summer camp. However, we soon receive a deluge of new information that not only take sharp turns from our expectations, but also re-frame what we thought was standard movie fare to reveal a darker reality beneath the surface.

Ema Horvath as Liberty in the thriller/sci-fi, WHAT LIES BELOW, a Vertical Entertainment release | Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

Michelle’s struggle to relate to her daughter’s apparent disinterest in boys is not just from a standard mother-daughter communication gap, but from her own anxieties in revealing that she has a new boyfriend, John (Trey Tucker). John is part of a team doing ecological research around Liberty and Michelle’s lake house and has set up a work space in their basement. He at first seems to be picture perfect, even able to charm and intrigue Liberty, but the facade soon begins to crack.

Liberty is socially awkward and uncomfortable with her burgeoning sexuality, but her lust is awoken by an ostensible crush on John. When John begins acting bizarrely and inappropriately, her feelings shift into fears and anxieties that many women have about men. Is he too good to be true? Is he a liar? Is he a literal monster? As Liberty seeks comfort and assistance from her mother about those fears, she is propelled further into confusion as Michelle defends John and accuses Liberty of lying and attempting to ruin her happiness.

WHAT LIES BELOW is a tense sci-fi thriller that revels in its viewers’ discomfort and confusion. The film explores a variety of fears related to teenage sexuality, familial relationships, step parent dynamics, and mistrust of one’s own perception. The introduction of these conflicts is well-paced and they all are intriguing, but the film ends up feeling a little too short to adequately resolve them all in a way they deserve. The third act rushes to get to the reveal, but without sufficient exploration or explanation. You are left with more questions than answers, which may very well be the goal, but the lack of clarity or context diminishes the impact of the ending. Repeat viewings will provide a new layer of understanding and enjoyment, but are unlikely to ever give all the answers.

WHAT LIES BELOW arrives On Demand and Digital on December 4, 2020.

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