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IN SHORT: a dull, plodding, inevitably violent scareflick without the tension or scares. [Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality. 118 minutes]
Here's the most novel reason to rush production of a film: "We have to shoot while the trees are still green." Having done production work, we fully understand the meaning but,in the case of Cold Creek Manor, it means a woefully underwritten script got the thumbs up too soon. There's so little background to flush out these paragraphs that we'll have to pad and be coy. Apologies in advance.
New York City being a terribly dangerous place to raise the kids, Cooper Tilson (Dennis Quaid) and his wife Leah (Sharon Stone) pack up the kids and flee for the upstate mountains and the quiet life, restoring a sprawling manor on a huge tract of land in the village of Kellingham. Leah is the big bread winner in the family. She's some sort of jet setting almost high powered corporate executive (that means she's not yet made VP) in a high powered corporation that does who knows what. Cooper is a one man film studio. He writes and directs and shoots and narrates documentaries, not the most lucrative position in the film biz but he does get the satisfaction of being his own boss. Having purchased the manor and its contents for dirt via a bank foreclosure, Cooper discovers a trove of historical material about the previous owners, the Massie family, who owned the house for three generations. He finds this to be a fitting subject for a new project and off we go.
The first person they meet, sort of kind of, is the last person to own the house. He is Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) who served a three year jail term for a hit and run car accident. While he was gone, his wife fled with his two daughters and now Dale needs a gig. He's friendly and helpful and doesn't seem to bear any bad wishes for the new owners of the house.
Dale's got a domineering father (Christopher Plummer) dying in a rest home and a girlfriend with a bad attitude (Juliette Lewis) and he's just under a lot of pressure and wants to make good...but what he really wants is to get his house back. By whatever means necessary. In addition, once he discovers that Cooper intends to document his family and their history, well, let's just say the Massie family has secrets that are best left unrevealed and Dale will do whatever is necessary to keep 'em that way.
Dale's not as smart as Cooper, who figures out the deal quickly, after literally stepping on a bit of evidence. It's not enough evidence to get Dale out of the way, the sheriff (Dana Eskelson) tells him, but there's more to be found on the property and dontcha just know it's going to be found by the time all is said and done. By the by, the sheriff is sister to Dale's girlfriend so you know there's conflict brewing there, too.
Cold Creek Manor does its best to play out the line slowly, developing characters and letting you make the connection before yanking you in to a horrific and violent closure. It's a classic movie gambit and when it works it thrills and surprises you at every turn. It doesn't work here. Director Mike Figgis keeps the pacing so slow that the first hour feels like two. There is also the small problem of a bit of foreshadowing so obvious that we knew what the big money shot of the film was going to be more than an hour before it was time. Anyone with an average exposure to thrillers, and we were surrounded by 'em, will figure it out, too. Once that's done, you really need to make a solid connection with the heroic characters. This isn't happening on screen.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Cold Creek Manor, he would have paid . . .
Badly in need of a fast forward button, Cold Creek Manor is one you should wait and rent.
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