Landing On VOD in late 2020 during the pandemic, What Lies Below failed to make much of a splash with audiences. But its Netflix debut has been a different story, as the horror thriller about a Merman has topped the streaming charts. The movie, which was written and directed by Braden R. Duemmler, has become somewhat of a Netflix phenomenon as it became the app’s #1 watched new release. But many have been left baffled by the ending, which some audience members have found quite confusing. Warning, there are spoilers ahead in case you haven’t watched What Lies Below just yet.
So what is going on with that ending? The movie follows a socially awkward 16-year-old who meets her mother’s fiancé, a man whose charm, intelligence and beauty seems too perfect to be human. Which it is. As the thriller plays out, it becomes obvious that the man in question is a fish monster. Some prefer the term Merman.
Ema Horvath stars as 16-year-old Liberty Wells, who comes home from camp and is immediately disturbed by the much younger man named John Smith, played by Trey Tucker, who seems only interested in impregnating her mom played by American Pie and American Beauty favorite Mena Suvari. Smith claims to be an aquatic geneticist studying lampreys. But it soon becomes apparent to the audience that he is a fishman the likes of which we haven’t seen since Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Only this merman has a sinister agenda.
Unlike most cut and paste horror movies of late, What Lies Below takes a weird turn in its third act, and the ending has left many confused. Liberty Wells wakes up in a diamond shaped container that fills with water. Ema Horvath is then revealed to be sitting amongst a number of other similar looking ‘cells’ all occupied by women. The very last second of the movie shows Liberty breaking into a smile as she is completely submerged underwater.
Braden R. Duemmler says he has received plenty of hate emaisl since the release of What Lies Below on Netflix. And now he is answering for the ending. Anyone who watched the movie with subtitles will learn that John Smith the Merman is actually an Alien.
“I’ve heard the [cat] is out the bag because, if you put on the subtitles, it apparently says “Alien noises.” So, yes, I would say he is a species from another planet. I don’t want to unpack it much more than that. I would say, if you missed anything, maybe go back to the time that Libby drives the car down to see into the lake and look at what she sees. We could get more into the weeds of it, if you want.”
So basically What Lies Below is a movie that requires repeat viewing. Appearing somewhat cagey, the director did dive deeper into that ending. The thriller actually has a second ending that shows several other Merman who look just like John Smith digging women out of walls. Braden R. Duemmler explains what is happening.
“Okay. I saw it as John is designed by his species. He is an exoskeleton that has been designed as a Venus flytrap. Although the exoskeleton is the same, the algorithm changes for each one. One of them is a scientist and kind of nerdy. The other one is kind of a hipster. The other one is kind of rock ‘n’ roll. They do it to attract different personalities but they’re always after the same thing, which is very clear in the last shot. They’re collecting specimen. And I would say to anyone who felt awkward throughout the film, go back, and listen to John’s lines, and imagine he’s speaking about Libby and Michelle as specimens instead of people, and then all of a sudden his word choices make more sense.”
He goes onto include this bit of info for viewers who remain mystified by the mysterious ending.
“They all just converge when the cops converge, because they don’t want to leave a footprint. They’re much stronger, faster, more intelligent than us, have heightened senses, they’re a much advanced species, so they can clear out a space in no time.”
The cell that Liberty finds herself in at the end is actually inside a UFO, which is 100% confirmed by the writer director, “Yes, it is. It is the hull of a spaceship.” And that smile Ema Horvath cracks at the end of the movie?, “She can breathe underwater and she realizes it. She hasn’t been impregnated yet. She’s been brought for further experiments. The blue light is the apparatus that allows things to breathe underwater.”
Though the ending is confusing, Braden R. Duemmler doesn’t think he’d go back and change anything. As he points out, he shot the thriller on a shoestring budget and doesn’t know that he’d elaborate on anything beyond what is seen in the actual movie itself. Also, with its popularity on Netflix, there is always the possibility of a sequel that delves deeper into the mysteries fans have currently been left with. If you want to know about some of the other perplexing moments found in the movie, the filmmaker has more answers over at Entertainment Weekly.