COLD CREEK MANORR
There may be a mystery at the eponymous Cold Creek Manor, but the far more compelling one is how a film like this gets made by so savvy a studio. Yes, there is that wonderful cast and director on board and a delicious if familiar premise (family of innocents unknowingly moves into a trouble-plagued mansion). But, no, audiences won't settle for such lazy storytelling.
The story kicks off with promising momentum, establishing the Tilsons, a prosperous Manhattan family that deserves a clean break from big-city pressures and dangers. High-powered executive Leah (Sharon Stone) is making yet another quick-turnaround business trip to the Midwest, as stay-at-home husband and documentary filmmaker Cooper (Dennis Quaid) scrambles to shuttle their sweet kids Kristen (Kristen Stewart) and Jesse (Ryan Wilson) off to their prestigious New York private schools. On her flight, Leah's boss offers her a VP slot at the company and a bed slot during their brief stopover. About the same time, Jesse is nearly killed while crossing the street to his school.
In a flash, the Tilsons have had it with the fast track and are house-hunting in upstate New York. In a quicker flash (no brokers please, no haggling, no mortgage frustrations, no inspections, this is a movie), they've found a dirt-cheap, decaying, remote country mansion fixer-upper with rusted gate and plenty of wooded acreage.
Another quick flash has the Tilsons moved in. And no repairmen, no decorators, no furniture or hardware shopping, no plumbing or electrical problems, no permits, no neighbor schmoozing. Again, this is a movie and go to the chase.
But a problem does arise with the pool, and the Tilsons enlist the help of hard-up Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), whose family had owned the manor for generations but who went into default and had to give the place away. From the get-go, Dale is Big Trouble and the early signs scream this. But, big-city slickers that they are, the Tilsons don't get it. Audiences will: Dale eats like and has the manners of a pig, has very messy hair, is given to evil side glances, is just out of jail, has sent his wife and kids running, sports tattoos, emits a lot of resentment and abuses his girlfriend--white-trash sexpot Ruby (Juliette Lewis), who lives in a trailer and works as a waitress and gas attendant at the local hangout. In perhaps the most egregious case of denial ever depicted on the big screen, the Tilsons hire Dale. Yes, the pool gets cleaned, but, soon after and just for starters, Kristen's dear pony ends up dead in that pool.
Also idiotically, Cooper, having discovered a mass of material about the Massie family left in piles with all the yard-sale junk, begins a documentary about them. Cooper visits Dale's slightly senile and crusty father (Christopher Plummer) in an old-age home, which only incites Dale to a higher level of menace.
The film allows it protagonists to bypass investigative procedures, as normally elusive clues bombard the family like so many flashing billboards. Screenwriter Richard Jefferies does understand cheap shocks, but at the expense of all logic.
Brit director Mike Figgis has delivered terrific and interesting work (Leaving Las Vegas, Miss Julie, Time Code), but here ventures awkwardly into new territory with a flat-out genre and even flatter script.