There's something to be said about becoming the reluctant protagonist and growing up fast. It's something Ema Horvath can relate to playing a teenage daughter of a lovestruck single mother in the indie coming-of-age horror film, What Lies Below. I spoke to the actress about what drew her to the role of Liberty Wells and the family dynamic of the film. "I always had a soft spot for socially-stunted characters or people who have a little bit of a Peter Pan complex," Horvath said. "This character is particularly awkward and a little behind socially. That was fun. The script has a lot of typical horror tropes like an homme fatale instead of a femme fatale in it. It was a little different than most scripts I read."
The film follows the mother Michelle, played by Mena Suvari, who picks up her daughter Liberty from camp so she can meet her boyfriend John Smith, played by Trey Tucker, at a remote cabin by the lake. The cabin, which Liberty inherited from relatives, is a staging point of John's experiments as a marine biologist. Michelle hopes John can win over her daughter and bond with her. As Liberty gets to know him, she finds that he's a little too perfect, and there's far more than he's revealed about himself."We went really fast," Horvath said. "I met Mena and Trey and had a couple of days with them before we went. Most of the discussions happened at the table read. [Writer-director Braden R. Duemmler] sent me a bit of background, which was a pretty detailed life story for Liberty, which clarified a lot of her behavior with some of the more awkward and social aspects." The actress noted she was told to dial it back a little on the awkwardness.
As the film progresses along, John taps into feelings Liberty wasn't aware of before she had. "It's a pretty sharp character arc first meeting her at this children's camp, and then she's forced to be the adult in her relationship with her mother," Horvath explained. "That relationship with her mom is very comfortable. [John's] the disturbing force. She has sort of a sexual awakening evoked from John, which is subverted by her need to take care of her mother." On top of Vertical Entertainment's What Lies Below, currently available on-demand and digital, the film also stars Troy Iwata and Haskiri Velazquez; Horvath also starred in Don't Loop Deeper on the (now defunct) Quibi and is in Amazon's upcoming television adaptation of Lord of the Rings. Naturally, the actress couldn't reveal much of anything. "I'm very excited to be part of it," she said. "I've been learning about the world for sure."