Cold Creek Manor
Briefly, Cold Creek Manor is the story of a family of cityfolk who move into a creepy mansion in upstate New York and embark on a spine-tingling search for clues to the estate’s lurid past. As written by screenwriter and executive producer, Richard Jefferies, the disconcerting idea of not knowing who used to live in your home before you did, or what happened in it is the dominant theme.
Cold Creek Manor also highlights the sharp dividing line that exists between the town locals and city slickers like the Tilsons, as well as the prejudices on each side.
Mike Figgis, who served as both producer and director, wanted to stay true to the psychological thriller genre, but give it a new twist: stay faithful to the genre, but with the understanding that there are fresh elements that he could bring to it.
But there’s something wrong with a psychological thriller when the audience laughs during the tense “psychological” parts of the movie and that’s what happened several times throughout the screening I attended. So much for fresh elements!
Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone play Manhattanites Cooper and Leah Tilson, who decide to leave the big city when their young son nearly dies in a traffic accident due to road rage. The pack up their kids and all their possessions and move into a recently repossessed mansion in the sticks of New York State. Once grand and elegant, the Cold Creek Manor is now in shambles, but Cooper and Leah have plenty of time and money to renovate. All’s well until a series of terrifying incidents at the house lead the Tilsons to wonder who used to live in their new home – and to discover what dark secrets are hidden inside. Set during the summer on location near Toronto, which substituted for upstate New York, the movie has many of the same elements as Cape Fear – a twisted Gothic tale about a family – but was not as suspenseful.
Cooper and Leah are a couple with an established marriage, which is at a point where they need to reinvent themselves. The sticks of New York State are definitely unfamiliar to the cosmopolitan Tilsons and the locals do little to make them feel welcome. This class conflict adds to the tension that lurks beneath the surface of the film.
Stephen Dorff as Dale Massie, whose family originally owned Cold Creek Manor, chillingly plays the bad guy. He’s getting good playing evil and misunderstood men. He returns to the neighborhood looking for work (after spending three years in prison), as well as to reclaim his family heritage. Scarred by his abusive relationship with his father, Mr. Massie, terrifyingly played by the wonderful Christopher Plummer, on the surface Dale is charming, helpful and popular with his neighbors. But Dale is also prone to sudden bursts of anger, capable of lashing out against his closest friends and family. He’s just plain nuts and his character is layered with schizophrenia and confusion.
Dale injects additional tension into the Tilson marriage. He flirts with Leah and she initially responds. He also leers at their young teenage daughter, Kristen, played by Kristen Stewart, who sees right through him and immediately spots a creep. Their son, Jessie, played by Ryan Wilson, also gets the creeps from Dale. Cooper doesn’t like him right off the bat, but at the urging of his wife, he gives him a job fixing the run-down swimming pool. That job lasts as long as it takes to fix the pool, then Cooper has Dale fired. And so starts the revenge element to the movie.
The house is suddenly engulfed in poisonous snakes. Cooper blames them on Dale. Cooper is chased in his car and hits a deer. The next day, their horse is found dead in the pool and his family initially doesn’t believe it was a deer – they think Cooper killed the horse instead. Lights go out, phone lines die. Their SUV is engulfed in flames and the tires on their truck are flat. The usual scary stuff starts to happen.
The character of Dale’s father is crucial to the story even though he’s only in two scenes. He’s an evil curmudgeon, an eccentric old demon who has a kind of rasping sense of humor and is a rather cruel martinet. He never like his son, Dale, and has always treated him in a cruel way and always accused him of not being a real man. He even intimates that he sired Dales children because Dale couldn’t do it. Dale’s family – wife and two children, had disappeared. According to Dale, they left him. But that issue becomes the red herring in the movie. What really happened to his family?
While Plummer was excellent in the part of Mr. Massie, it must be noted that his words are shocking. The last half of the movie uses the f-word a lot by more than one character. Although there’s little sex in the movie, there’s plenty of mayhem in the form of blood, guts, skeletons and foul language.
The supporting characters were excellent. Juliette Lewis plays Dale’s lover, Ruby Ferguson. She’s tough and strong, yet she’s in an abusive relationship. She sees Dale as misunderstood and sensitive, so she’s the supportive girlfriend, much to her own detriment.
As played by Dana Eskelson, the character of Sheriff Annie Ferguson is one of the few people who have seen both side s of Dale’s nature firsthand. She knows he has a charming side, but she also knows the bad seed side of him. Also, Annie has to keep the peace between the outsiders with good intentions and the locals who want to protect what’s there, trying to keep a balance between the two. At the same time, she tries to protect Ruby, her sister.
I wish that Cold Creek Manor were a better movie. Unfortunately, build-ups turn to letdowns. It’s also too predictable – you know from the outset that Dale is a bad guy. By the end, you find out he’s a REALLY bad guy. Another issue bothered me. Dale’s bad behavior is blamed on an abusive father. But, use that as the main reason for his evil is shortchanging every abused child who turns out ok. I also wish there had been more character development between Cooper and Leah – there was very little interaction between them on a personal level, until the very end, when their lives were literally in danger. The acting was fine, but there wasn’t much depth to this movie. It’s a little seductive as a psychological thriller, but not as much as it should have been to be remembered past a few days. And it certainly wasn’t the kind of movie you’d discuss, much less think about later.
© 2001-2007 Ellen Sarbone. All rights reserved. Email editor@eTraveller.com.