The perfect house hides the perfect crime
Running Time: 119 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: Canada, United States
After their son is almost killed in a traffic accident, documentary maker Cooper Tilson (Dennis Quaid) and his executive wife Leah (Sharon Stone) decide to leave the dangers of the big city for the calm of the country – only to find that Cold Creek Manor, the big old house into which they move, has not quite been abandoned by previous occupant Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), who wants the secrets of his past to remain buried there.
In the world of the thriller, venturing out of one’s ordinary milieu always leads to trouble. In ‘Cold Creek Manor’, unfortunately, this proves just as true for its director Mike Figgis, who would have done better to stay working in the more experimental terrain of cinema that he has been inhabiting of late (‘Timecode’, ‘Hotel’). ‘Cold Creek Manor’, with its big-name headlining actors and its high production values, is pure mainstream fodder, and has clearly been conceived as Figgis’ ticket back into the Hollywood fold – but it is also such an unadventurous collection of clichés, given free rein to trample over anything like substance or plausibility, that it is almost possible to believe that Figgis is parodying everything that is wrong with Hollywood today.
Exploiting anxieties held by middle-class city folk about rural life (why do they all look so inbred? and just how do they get by on the farm without double decaf lattes?), ‘Cold Creek Manor’ takes its time to build up the tension, before finally unleashing on its viewers the cruellest of all cinematic surprises, namely that there is no surprise – everything happens here exactly as forecast within the first half hour of the film, only with far less excitement or drama than anticipated. And there must be something in the country air to make everyone behave with such perverse stupidity: Cooper and Leah show a moronic determination to run repeatedly into dangers that any reasonable person would avoid, while the killer gloats like some James Bond villain instead of just getting it over and done with.
As is the rule in haunted house movies, the manor of the title is a prominent, if silent, character – sprawling, gothic, and full of curiosities and skeletons in its closets. Unfortunately it is, despite its colonial timbers, less wooden than the film’s other characters, who have been so blandly written that fine actors like Quaid and Stone do not know what to do with themselves. Christopher Plummer, however, steals the whole show as Dale’s bed-ridden, mean-spirited daddy.
The evocations of famous scenes from chillers like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (old man skilled at using butcher’s hammers), The Ring (woman trapped down spooky well) and The Shining (axe making firewood of a locked door) merely serve here as a reminder of how much better the original films were. For despite the dead horses, crazed hicks and plagues of snakes, the only truly horrifying moment in ‘Cold Creek Manor’ is the hint at the end that there may be a sequel.
It's Got: Snakes, dental plates, a good ole barroom brawl, Juliette Lewis playing trailer trash (can you believe it?), and the menacing line you dont know anything about farming.
It Needs: Either to halve its length, or else to come up with an ending worth waiting almost two hours for. Oh, and to have at least one original idea.
This sort of below-par rube gothic may play well out in the sticks, but we city slickers like us somethin' more sophisticated and original, y'hear…