Review by Megan Bosarge
Netflix does it again, creeping out audiences with its latest sci-fi thriller, What Lies Below, directed by Braden R. Duemmler.
When Liberty Wells (Ema Horvath) returns home from summer camp to find her mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari), has a new boyfriend, things start weird and get weirder.
At first it’s clear that John (Trey Tucker) is the epitome of manly perfection with chiseled abs, a flawless face and effortless charisma to complete the picture. Liberty struggles to imagine how her mother snagged such a catch. She also wrestles with the fact that she is very attracted to the new man in her mother’s life. Despite her awkward shyness, Liberty warms up to John’s charm quickly, taking interest in his unusual work as an aquatic geneticist. But it isn’t long before Liberty notices something off about John.
As Liberty notices John spending more and more time in the lake, working to salvage a species of lamprey, John begins to exhibit strange behavior. Liberty begins to withdraw, urging her mother to be wary of her new lover. Michelle, however will not listen and has suddenly succumbed to an unexpected illness she soon realizes is due to pregnancy. Of course, she isn’t pregnant with any ordinary child.
What Lies Below can be viewed through several analytical lenses. One could argue that Duemmler wanted to expose the power men hold over women. By the time Michelle, a woman who never felt loved by her own father, realizes she is pregnant with John’s inhuman offspring, it is too late for her to escape his clutches. Her desire for love clouds her judgement, making her blind to the truth of who this possessive man is. For centuries, independent women have abdicated control of their lives when they take a husband and start families. Men take control.
However, another perspective to consider is that of the environmentalist. John begins his genetics work trying to save a species whose habitat is threatened by human negligence that has caused an increased in the salinity of the lake water. Rather than merely saving his own species, John means for it to take over humanity. John in this sense, represents the cautionary idea that if we continue to abuse the planet, it will eventually retaliate, evolving to create conditions that are inhospitable humans, the parasitic host that has taken over.
Regardless of the critical lens, it is clear that What Lies Below is more than your typical sci-fi thriller. From the first scene, you feel uncomfortable, questioning each relationship and intention and when you look deeper, searching for meaning, it’s easy to find. Horvath, Suvari and Tucker, bring honesty and pity to their roles and Duemmler’s direction will have you squirming on your couch, and should you find yourself swimming in a lake this summer, and something brushes your foot, you’ll find yourself wondering if there’s something beneath the surface, waiting for the right moment to annihilate us all.