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— Tate Donovan, Hercules

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Mike Figgis earned praise and respect for Leaving Las Vegas, and Timecode made him an indie director to watch. These bright spots in his career make Cold Creek Manor all the more disappointing.

Suspicion from the Audience

Qunn and Stone are trapped in a genre
Qunn and Stone are trapped in a genre

Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone are Mr. And Mrs. Tilson, who simply have to leave New York City after their son gets hit by a car. They buy two square miles of land — complete with a 3-story mansion — a few hours from the city for just over $200,000.

The sweetheart deal is probably supposed to arouse suspicion in the audience — what curse must be on the place? — but instead, like so much in Cold Creek Manor, it’s simply too hard to swallow.

It turns out two of the former owners — a father and a son — are still alive. Dale (Stephen Dorff) was just released from prison and has returned to his family’s estate looking for work. Apparently the Tilsons don’t hear the creepy, ominous music on the soundtrack and agree to let Dale into their house, close to their children, on sort of a trial basis. Dale’s father (Christopher Plummer) is a babbling invalid whose ravings coincidentally focus on the Mystery of the Manor.

When the children go out to play in their 1,200 acres, they find an old wooden sign with the word “EVIL” etched on it. In case you can’t read, the girl says, pensively, “evil....”

Natural and Psychological

My horror-movie friends and I expected a supernatural thriller. Instead, Cold Creek Manor is a psychological thriller that parallels House of Sand and Fog. It wants to be compared to Breakdown or The Trigger Effect. But while both of those movies earned a few chills, almost nothing in Cold Creek Manor is as creepy or scary as it’s supposed to be (although the volume of Figgis’ atonal, staccato “panic music” can be startling).

Even among expectant, hopeful horror fans, there is little to make you jump. The “snake scene,” far from being a sudden shock, brought sudden laughter as we recognized king snakes and tropical boas — supposedly dangerous and supposedly local to New York State — from our local pet store.

DVD Extras

Cold Creek Manor is not a movie that demands in-depth special features. Nevertheless, there was a DVD budget, and so now you can see a too-long alternate ending or some of the film’s deleted scenes.

There are also interviews with the screenwriter (Richard Jefferies), the director, and the actors. With the bad taste of the movie fresh in my mouth, it was interesting to note than very little of their back-patting was aimed at the finished product; they all praised each other, or the process, or the genre, but not the movie itself.

The DVD also includes a featurette called “Rules of the Genre,” which is a very fitting subject because the movie follows the formula so slavishly. In it, Figgis explains how a thriller is supposed to work. And although he presumably followed the rules, Cold Creek Manor still manages not to work. Apparently a good thriller can’t be reduced to a set of rules.

Picture and Sound

The movie is a disappointment, but the picture and sound are both praiseworthy.

Cinematographer DeClan Quinn has several scenes than can go on his demo reel. One is a beautiful shot of an old dusty room being opened to slanting golden sunlight for the first time in years. Another is a tracking shot moving from full outdoor sunlight into a darker interior of the house, which is technically difficult to achieve. The DVD preserves the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs.

As mentioned before, the sound (encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround with great dynamic range) is the only thing in Cold Creek Manor that might make you jump.