What Lies Below
By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Violent horror/thriller about creepy new boyfriend.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie could be seen as a cautionary tale about watching out for attractive strangers. But it also seems to suggest that there's little to no chance of a woman over 40 finding an attractive partner unless his intentions are malignant.
Positive Role Models
Libby is bright and high achieving but struggles socially and with depression. Her mom, Michelle, is selfish and inappropriate, refusing to respect boundaries between herself and her daughter and making no effort to be sensitive to Libby's (lack of) comfort around the new man Michelle is dating. The movie is filled with anti-female violence.
Violence & Scariness
Women are bound and submerged in water. A man chokes a woman, then ties her up. Many other women, presumably drowned, are displayed in glass tanks. A woman, seemingly dead, is seen in a tank being attacked by blood-sucking lampreys. A girl is bitten by a venomous insect. While a man's back is bare, his skin is shown rippling with what seem to be large, unexplained ball bearings beneath. An adult grabs the genitals of a 16-year-old girl who's started to menstruate, claiming he's trying to stop the blood, but then he licks the blood off his fingers suggestively. Later he seems to vomit up a large ball that he proceeds to force down her throat, causing her to become unconscious. Exchanges between a man and a girl have threateningly sexual overtones.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A man is seen from behind/the waist up having sex (no explicit nudity). Other scenes include the moans of a couple having sex. A man's muscular body is frequently reviewed in closeup. A shirtless man enters the bathroom of his girlfriend's teen daughter while the girl is showering. He breathes deeply from the scent of her soiled clothes.
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"F--k," "s--t," "bastard," " bitch," "crap," and "tush."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A man seems to be drugging women to make them compliant.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that What Lies Below is a thriller/horror movie about a teenager (Ema Horvath) who must cope with her mom's new boyfriend from hell (perhaps literally). The girl has to watch her mom (Mena Suvari) kissing the new guy (Trey Tucker) in front of her and can't avoid hearing their loud, unsettling sexual moaning. Eerie, dissonant music signals early on that suspense and anxiety are in store. A couple has non-graphic sex, though a man's bare back is seen. A man inappropriately reaches for a teen girl's genitals, supposedly to "helpfully" mop up her menstrual blood. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," bastard," "bitch," "crap," and "tush." Women who've been drowned in tanks are on display. The movie is filled with anti-female violence, including binding, domination, and murder. And the whole plot questionably suggests that there's little to no chance of a woman over 40 finding an attractive partner unless his intentions are malignant.
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What Lies Below
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What's the Story?
In WHAT LIES BELOW, Libby (Ema Horvath) is a socially awkward teenager who loves archeology and wants to study at Cambridge. She returns from science camp to the family's lakeside summer home to be with her hovering mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari), who seems unable to respect any boundaries between herself and Libby. Michelle has news: She's in love with John (Trey Tucker), a younger hunk who's been running fresh water experiments in the area. He seems a bit creepy, but he attributes that to his own social awkwardness and habit of sleepwalking. Libby's unease is compounded by hearing the loud sexual moans coming from her mom's bedroom. Soon Michelle isn't feeling well: She has debilitating stomach pains, and she's sleeping a lot. Something just doesn't seem right. Maybe the positive pregnancy test explains it all? Libby's alarm grows, but at any suggestion that John might not be the right guy for her, Michelle accuses Libby of trying to sabotage their relationship. After the couple announces that marriage is in the plans, Libby sees a guy who looks just like John nuzzling another woman in town. By this time, John has already touched Libby "down there" -- supposedly to mop up her leaking menstrual blood, as if that were a normal occurrence. He apologizes for overreacting, but he also suggestively licked the blood off his finger. Libby seems to discover a number of alarming things in the darkness, and a friend is found drowned in a tank with lampreys sucking on her. Things only get worse from there.
Is It Any Good?
In the horror tradition, What Lies Below leaves plenty unexplained -- but to some degree, that's the point. It almost feels unreasonable to ask that horror movie plots make sense. A shimmering orangey light glows beneath a lake as the action begins, suggesting that things of an otherworldly nature are sure to follow. And, in that respect, the film delivers. Add the first notes of typical horror movie music, and you know in your bones from the earliest moments that we've either got a case of the supernatural, the undead, or aliens lurking somewhere and up to no good.
But no such promise is made about originality. This film has much in common with the far better, far creepier Rosemary's Baby and, to some degree, Get Out. But that's forgivable, as horror movies are rarely expected to serve up anything that hasn't been done before. Horvath epitomizes the sulky teen, and Suvari resonates as the kind of mom most people would be unlikely to want. Tucker overcomes his Hollywood good looks to nail, uh, whatever it is that he's supposed to be. Don't miss the movie's brief reference to the unhealthy sodium levels in canned soda -- but think of that as a teaser, not a spoiler.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in What Lies Below. Do you consider this a horror movie or a thriller? Why? What's the difference?
At the heart of the movie is the unspoken suggestion that a woman over the age of 40 would be unlikely to find an attractive romantic partner. Do you think that assumption plays into stereotypes? Is it misogynistic?
How do you think a parent should introduce a new significant other to a child? How did it play out here? What could Michelle have done differently?
When Libby told her mother that John had been inappropriate with her, why do you think Michelle chose not to believe her? Do you think poor judgment got Michelle into trouble?
- On DVD or streaming: May 14, 2021
- Cast: Ema Horvath, Mena Suvari, Trey Tucker
- Director: Braden Duemmler
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 7, 2023
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