COLD CREEK MANOR
Director: Mike Figgis
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Wilson, Dana Eskelson, Christopher Plummer
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and some sexuality)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 9/19/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
You know what Cold Creek Manor is missing? The crotchety old townsman who tells the upscale New Yorkers what happened "up in that there old house." His presence would be unnecessary, though, because we're aware of everything that happened in "that there old house" well before the screenplay gets around to telling us. One word springs to mind when thinking of Mike Figgis' predictable thriller: bland. Suspense eludes its admittedly skillful presentation, and of all the routes the story could have taken, Richard Jefferies chooses the most conventional, least promising one. He fills his script with many false starts—scenes with potential that lead absolutely nowhere—clichés, and characters whose intelligence is dependant entirely on how useful they are to the plot. The movie starts to head in one direction one minute but then immediately abandons that idea to move on to something else, which will inevitably be dismissed soon after. It doesn't play with our expectations, because it never gives us a chance to have expectations in the first place.
The Tilsons are a well-to-do New York City family. Cooper (Dennis Quaid) is an independent documentary filmmaker who works from home and brings his two children Kristen (Kristen Stewart) and Jesse (Ryan Wilson) to school every day. His wife Leah (Sharon Stone) is scared by the alarm clock in the morning and works a job that has her flying all over the country, but after almost losing their son, the adult Tilsons are ready to leave the city. They go house hunting and stumble across Cold Creek Manor (you must say, "We're going to Cold Creek Manor" aloud to understand how silly it sounds), a dilapidated old farmhouse in need of some major renovating. The house was repossessed and is a steal, but the problem is that its previous owner, former prisoner, and general creep Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) wants to hang around to do some of the fixing up. He has nothing else to do, since his wife and two children left town years ago, and he already has living arrangements with his girlfriend Ruby (Juliette Lewis, getting in touch with her inner drag queen). Of course, Cooper, being the nice guy that he is, lets him work around the house—no questions asked.
And that's pretty much the setup for the rest of the movie. A lot happens in between these events and the finale, but it doesn't bring us any further than this. There are certainly opportunities from the beginning. The theme of big city outsiders out of their element in the country is prevalent throughout but predominately only hinted at. Everyone in the town seems interconnected, so it's odd that the script never utilizes this concept. Young Jesse finds items of a former child occupant and becomes obsessed with his poem about someone or something named "hammer head" that bashes skulls, but the setup is only used for a late discovery. There's also the connection between Cooper, Dale, and Dale's father (a wasted Christopher Plummer), who all have unfaithful wives (although Leah never goes through with a suggested affair). Nothing comes of this, so the coincidence comes off subversively misogynistic instead. Speaking of which, Leah is an entirely useless character—too easily startled and inexplicably naïve. Just pay attention to how she acts around Dale—completely oblivious. At one point, Dale says that her daughter is pretty, "just like her mother," and she thinks nothing of it.
There's a point where she does serve a purpose, but soon after, she decides to stand over a deep pit in prime position to be pushed in by the villain. I say "villain" as if his identity is a secret, so I will no longer equivocate. By that time, though, no character or actor is able to escape their role as a tool of the screenplay, even Dennis Quaid, who had risen above the material for a good amount of time. Stephen Dorff goes from overly creepy guy to horror movie villain, channeling the likes of Michael Myers (a turn of the head after killing someone) and Jack Torrance (a hammer through a door). We've already seen a pointless, drunken chase that ends in a deer being hit and that is followed the next day by Kristen's horse dead in the swimming pool. Why she thinks her father was responsible is a mystery. Does she think he hit the horse and then dragged its body back to the house to dump it in the pool? There's also a sequence where poisonous snakes roam free throughout the house, complete with over-exaggerated reactions from all (Stone's is the funniest). The climax leads to the movie's only suspenseful shot as Cooper and Leah walk down a darkened hallway, but it's ruined by placing the shocking moment exactly when we know it will happen.By the time a stained-glass window's fate turns out to be exactly what we thought it would be from the moment we first saw it, Cold Creek Manor has become redundant. Imagine watching someone set up an elaborate chain of dominoes with a button at the end. The idea is that the last domino will hit the button. Now imagine the person who set it all up walks past the dominoes and pushes the button, and nothing happens. That's Cold Creek Manner.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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