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Cold Creek Manor

01/11/2003. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Cold Creek Manor in the USA - or Buy Cold Creek Manor in the UK

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The creepy contrivance that takes the form of director Mike Figgis's haunted house hokum Cold Creek Manor definitely wants to develop the goose bump response for its anticipating audience. Unfortunately, this stillborn by-the-numbers movie of terror is reductive and just plods along.

Cold Creek Manor (2003) Touchstone Pictures
1 hr. 58 mins.
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, Ryan Wilson, Kristen Stewart, Christopher Plummer, Dana Eskelson, Simon Reynolds
Directed by: Mike Figgis

The creepy contrivance that is in the form of director Mike Figgisís haunted house hokum Cold Creek Manor definitely wants to develop the goose bump response for its anticipating audience.

Unfortunately, this stillborn by-the-numbers tale of terror is reductive and plods along to a less-than-intriguing premise about a family that moves into a massively decrepit house that holds more than its share of chilling secrets. Although Figgis reaches far into the depths of scary sensationalism to try and fortify this banal boofest with pithy suspense, Cold Creek Manor fails to invigorate this kind of twitching genre that begs for more terrorizing twists than what this lacking thriller can offer.

Cold Creek Manor

Despite showcasing a decent cast hired to bringing in some legitimacy to a wannabe sophisticated frightfest, Manor trickles along unconvincingly without once dispatching any genuine sense of supreme sadistic surprises. For this revelation alone, Cold Creek Manor certainly needs to be condemned.

Figgis, known for his edgy mainstream movies such as Internal Affairs and the Oscar-winning personal drama Leaving Las Vegas, simply goes through the empty motions while delivering a generic scare session that would make Casper the Friendly Ghost look ominous in comparison. Manor is quite conventional if not utterly cockeyed in its tepid presentation.

It doesnít take much to put a clueless family in peril as they tackle the seemingly comfortable fix-it-up abode they thought was their treasured home away from home. Figgis merely settles in with this filmís lackluster concept and amazingly doesnít take any creative measures to construct this routine stalker flick into something more challenging or inventive.

Instead, he opts to take the easy way out and helms this uneventful frightening family fare into a dull display of maudlin mediocrity. This pseudo spine-tingling spectacle is nothing more than a lean raucous rush job meant to tease the moviegoersí thrill-seeking expectations.

Super white collar power couple Cooper and Leah Tilson (Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone) decide to leave behind the hustle-and-bustle of New York Cityís urban demands and consider the charming alternative of moving upstate for the healthy welfare of their precious offspring Kristen (Kristen Stewart) and Jesse (Ryan Wilson). Besides, itís also an excuse to escape the high caliber professional responsibilities that made the Tilson lovebirds the materialistic and privileged tandem that they are. Since they can financially pick up and start a new life elsewhere they take advantage of this option and head up north.

The Tilson clan set their sights on the expansive estate known as Cold Creek Manor, a shabbily-looking venue that has potential to be a promising home if it were to undergo a cosmetic reconstruction. The spacious place isnít exactly eye candy to behold but it does have an intriguing quality about it that draws the attention of its new owners. Thankfully, Cooper and Leah were able to buy the worn out property since it has been recently repossessed.

Its previous owner, the shady Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), lost the ownership of Cold Creek Manor because of his three-year imprisonment. Suddenly, he is back into the fold and isnít too crazy about the current occupants that reside in his former raggedy establishment.

The fact that Dale is plain riff raff and an utter threat to the survival of the Tilson bunch screams in volumes how predictable and lazy this set up is in its transparent concoction. For whatever dense and aimless reason, the Tilsons (particularly nonsensical Cooper) hire the demented Dale to do odd jobs around the grounds after the ex con offers a sketchy sad sack story about his recent woes.

It appears so clear how wound up this weird stranger is yet the gutless Cooper never gets up enough nerve to address the questionable behavior of the nut job he has working about within the vicinity of his concerned family. And when Daleís local curvy waitress girlfriend and sleazy she-devil sidekick (Juliette Lewis) joins in the menacing madness the movie basically throws its hands up in the air and unnecessarily exposes some of its intended mischievous firepower.

Thatís pretty much the problem with Richard Jeffriesí choppy script in that it invites the obvious mayhem of the uninvolved plot too soon before the audience has a chance to digest and figure out where all the angles are heading. Because this movie has no apparent direction or ability to safeguard its natural surprise elements, Figgis ruins whatís left of any imagination that this disjointed dud could conjure up.

Itís bad enough that Manor is riddled with the same old standby horror-infested clichés that consistently plague these types of frivolous finger-biting expositions such as mindless suburbanites determined to inexplicably endure the pain and punishment in a suspect rat trap that they had no business purchasing in the first place. But to blatantly give up the waning goods for a flaccid flick that didnít have much punch to begin with? Hmmm, thatís just downright dimwitted to say the least.

Strangely, Cold Creek Manor comes off as a weak copycat version of the classic psychological caper Cape Fear in that a deranged stranger invades the sensibilities of an unsuspecting family. Itís not totally clear as to whether Figgis wanted Manor to be a straight-faced send up of the ubiquitous "peril in unassuming paradise" mode that some shock-a-lot moviemakers love to exploit for their take of perverse entertaining value.

Even if thatís the case, this misguided movie doesnít follow the common pattern of a selected few campy scary movies that know when to at least tap into its knee jerk reaction instead of sloppily throwing the scathing blunders in our faces before weíre actually ready to accept them.

Sadly, this diluted drama plays on and has the nerve to try and reinforce some convoluted subplot about some hush-hush of family secrets that have echoed in the walls of Cold Creek Manor for countless years on end. Gee, thatís enough to compensate for all the other deficiencies of this weak-kneed edge-of-your-seat psychodrama, huh?

The performances do not contribute anything that can be labeled as reliable in this mawkish mess. In fact, the cast members donít seem to blink an eyelash based on the kooky circumstances that surround them in this vapid vehicle. Maybe thatís because there isnít anything worth acknowledging in this dopey narrative. The main actors go through the one-dimensional strides that have highlighted their careers in redundant fashion.

Quaid falls into prototypical he-man high maintenance as the reluctant hero who has to defend his loved ones because the pushing of some madman results in his shoving back. Stone is beautiful and bold and latches on to the convenient bravura when needed. And Dorff, known for his continued efforts of playing unstable creeps, merely mails it in as yet another threatening oddball looking to score some bizarre brownie points. Plus 1991ís Cape Fear vet Lewis barely registers on the warped scale as the carnal cutie pie accomplice to Dorffís troubled tormentor.

When the dust blows away, Figgis will finally contemplate what went wrong with this lethargic formulaic thriller that will have some wondering when his creative juices evaporated.

This is one thrilling thud of a meager macabre mystery that even Scooby Doo wouldnít want to solve if he was bribed with a case load of Scooby snacks.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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