More noise than signal

Cold Creek Manor

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

The mobile phone has created something of a quandary for the wannabe creators of thrillers and horror films, the undeniably handy line of contact to the appropriate authorities be they police or zombie busters causing an easy route for the hapless victims to call for backup. There’s no handy single line to throw a besieged house into isolation, unless of course the ‘action’ occurs in one of the few remaining places in the Western world where masts have yet to penetrate the land. One of these vanishingly small number of places is the sleepy backwater of Bellingham, where the Tilson family have decamped to hoping to escape the hectic pace of big city life.

Purchasing the now run down Cold Creek Manor and it’s contents after the bank foreclosed on the Massie family, owners since time immemorial, the Tilsons start on the length process of renovation. Cooper (Dennis Quaid) also decides to make a documentary on the previous residents, inspired by the reams of paperwork left around. Ex-high flying exec Leah (Sharon Stone) settles into a housewife role, recovering from an indecent proposal put to her by her ex-boss. Their kids settle into the country way of life quickly, Kristen (Kristen Stewart) making friends with the daughter of similarly recent ex-city slickers the Pinskis and happily cantering around on a pony. Youngest kid Jesse (Ryan Wilson) seems fine, bar a slightly worrying obsession with the items left by the youngest previous resident.

This slightly idyllic lifestyle is disturbed somewhat when the freshly released from clink Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) shows up, wandering around his old house with nary a by-your-leave, sirrah. Oddly, rather than kicking the guy to the kerb Cooper invites him for dinner then offers him a job helping to renovate the house. Cooper eventually gets round to thinking this is a mistake, distrusting the shifty character to the point of blaming him after the house breaks out in snakes. While the family’s panicked reaction to the slithery invasion is understandable, it’s also more comic that terrifying. However, it’s also the first thing of any interest to happen in over an hour so let’s cut it some slack, eh?

Therein lies the tale, as the absolute bulk of this films unduly lengthy running time is about as thrilling as a particularly lackadaisical episode of Changing Rooms viewed while strung out on Lithium. There’s nothing inherently wrong with home improvement programs if you’re so inclined but there’s little place for them in what is marketed as a thriller. Actually, the trailer makes it out to be a ‘haunted house’ type affair which is completely and utterly misleading, but I suppose saying that it’s a film where absolutely nothing of any interest to anyone happens isn’t the strongest marketing strategy.

After limping around for another forty minutes or so, we eventually get to the not particularly gripping climax as Dale’s dark secret is revealed, along with the reason he wanted them out of the house. Turning murderous, it’d be nice to think that Stephen Dorff cuts an imposing and terrifying figure but having pissed away what slight credibility remained him in the moronic extreme sports heist caper Steal I for one ain’t buying it, and given the at absolute best mediocre notices the movie has garnered not may others are either.

Cold Creek Manor‘s problem isn’t so much that it does things badly, it’s that it doesn’t do anything at all. The basic premise is sound and I think we’re entitled to expect a bit better from director Mike Figgis. After all, being responsible for the bleak masterpiece Leaving Las Vegas we know he can sustain a mood despite a lack of much in the way of conventional action. That he singularly fails to do so at any point in Cold Creek Manor is exactly the reason the only way you’ll be on the edge of your seat is if you’ve fallen asleep and slouched.

There are no incisive comments to be levelled at the actors here, after all if they’ve got nothing to play with I’m not going to spend my vitriol on them. I will say it’s nice to see Sharon Stone return from a few years consisting of largely voice-over work following her stroke, and it’s nice to see Kristen Stewart looking like a girl after me sitting through the first half of Panic Room thinking she was a he. As for the rest, despite a reasonably talented cast they make little or no impression.

There are opportunities to create a bit of tension here and there, but they’re all wasted. The whole ‘outsiders coming to a small town’ thing might not be original but is normally good for a few menacing stares at least, but there’s not so much as a “You ain’t from around here, are ya, boy?” to be heard. When business actually does pick up towards the end it begins to seem like a tribute to other, considerably better films. Godfather‘s dead horse? The Ring‘s well o’ corpses? The Shining‘s manic stares and axes through doors? All present and incorrect, stripping them of any menace their original incarnations may have had. Whether this is a knowing wink at the aforementioned films or merely lazy writing on Richard Jefferies’ part is a distinction I’ll leave to your own opinions, though I’d wager the latter.

There’s an art to making a film where very little actually happens, but it seems to have deserted this effort. They don’t necessarily have to be boring, witness Takeshi Kitano’s A Scene At The Sea, a mesmerising film despite a minimum of both action and dialogue. The mood of the piece, as ever is vital, but it’s a difficult task to maintain this in a vacuum. Cold Creek Manor sits in the depths of space, bereft of any sparks of light in an uninspired script, functional direction and grotesquely adequate acting performances. Why we’re being ‘treated’ to such a string of excruciatingly dull and lifeless films in the last few weeks is a source of puzzlement to me, but this happily joins the cadre of films I’ll remember absolutely nothing about next week, let alone next year. Boring, flat and bereft of any thrills whatsoever, it’s a weak thriller that doesn’t even have the good grace to be amusingly awful, just awful.

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