"Cold Creek Manor" is a testament to how effectively bad movies can be sold as seemingly good ones in stylish, well-cut, and subjectively deceptive theatrical trailers. What cannot be explained, however, is how such a lazy, predictable, dull, sloppy, one-note motion picture was ever greenlit by its studio (in this case, Touchstone Pictures) and then able to attract such A-list stars as Dennis Quaid (2002's "Far From Heaven
") and Sharon Stone (1999's "The Muse
"). And what, pray tell, has happened to director Mike Figgis since his incendiary, Oscar-nominated 1995 drama, "Leaving Las Vegas?" By the looks of the inert waste of time that is the finished product of "Cold Creek Manor," you would have thought Figgis had never made another film in his life.
Married couple Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Leah Tilson (Sharon Stone), New York city dwellers tired of the bustle and danger that surrounds them and their kids, Kristen (Kristen Stewart) and Jesse (Ryan Wilson), make the even more dire mistake of moving to the country. The property and house they buy, called Cold Creek Manor, is run-down but nothing some paint and wallpaper cannot fix. As documentarian Cooper begins researching the history of the house for his latest project (the previous family's belongings are still there), he and Leah conveniently hire the former owner, ex-con Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), to help fix it up. It doesn't take long before Dale is planting poisonous snakes in their house and belittling the family to move off his old property. When that doesn't work, he gets really serious.
Despite what the ads may have suggested, "Cold Creek Manor" is neither a horror movie nor a ghost tale. Instead, it is another one of those "...From Hell" flicksin this case the "Ex-House Owner From Hell"in which an innocent protagonist, couple, or family is terrorized by someone with a grudge. If it had to fall into a genre category, it would be classified as something of a thriller, but it is one devoid of thrills or even cursory suspense. The villain is as plainly obvious as a neon sign from the moment he steps onscreen, while his would-be past secrets are just as immediately foreseeable. The climax lacks a single twist or surprise, happy to rip off "The Ring
" and then conclude atop a high structure on a dark and stormy night where the bad guy falls to his death. Meanwhile, the intrusive, booming music score (also by Mike Figgis) looms over the proceedings, constantly trying to pump viewers up with excitement when there is no excitement to be had.
"Cold Creek Manor" is almost astonishing in its thinly plotted, shamelessly derivative amateurishness. Save for some sleek and attractive cinematography courtesy of Declan Quinn (2000's "28 Days
"), every aspect of the film is calamitous. The screenplay, by Richard Jefferies, is a disconcerting mess, offering up a story with nary a sign of originality or wit, and characters that lack motivation and sense. The pace starts off understandably deliberate but remains slow as molasses for its full two hours, complete with sections so lacking in conviction and forward motion that even the actors do nothing but stand around, unsure of what their purpose is. Even the climax, the most action-oriented part, is so mired in cliches and unintentionally silly character actions that it probably wouldn't raise the heartbeat of an easily frightened grade schooler.
In terms of the prestige of the actors and director involved, this is one of the worst-acted big-budget films in recent years. Dennis Quaid escapes mostly unscathed, but we never get a sense of who his Cooper is, and don't really care to. As Leah, Sharon Stone looks terminally distracted in almost every scene, as if she'dunderstandablyrather be somewhere else. Stephen Dorff (2002's "Fear Dot Com
") is mildly threatening as the heavy, but his motivations remain sketchy and he too often goes over-the-top when subtlety might have worked more efficiently. As Dale's girlfriend Ruby, the too often underused and typecast Juliette Lewis (2003's "Old School
") plays yet another piece of trailer trash. If Lewis' beautifully modulated (and Emmy-nominated) performance in 2002's HBO film, "Hysterical Blindness," is any indication, she still has acting chops; now all she needs are more consistently solid roles and a better manager.
When "Cold Creek Manor" passes the finish line and begins its end credits, the viewer will likely be met with a look of disbelief on their face. Disbelief at the movie's stupidity (none of the characters have IQ's north of 50). Disbelief at its utter predictability and banal storytelling. And, most of all, disbelief that you have wasted two hours of your life on a "thriller" as pointless and ineffectual as the day is long. In the words of Jerri Blank in Comedy Central's canceled television series, "Strangers With Candy," bring a book. I've experienced more hair-raising moments and tightly wound twists in an R.L. Stine pre-teen mystery.