Often pretentious independent filmmaker Mike Figgis must have needed a paycheck pretty badly to sign up for directing a no-surprises, straight-to-video quality family-in-peril psycho-killer thriller like "Cold Creek Manor" -- and what's worse, whatever he was paid, he sure didn't earn it.
Laden with every dusty convention in the pantheon of bygone horror movies (including a dusty, creaking old house) and brazenly foreshadowing every fright with all the subtlety of a charging rhinoceros, this picture attempts to evoke the essence of "Cape Fear" -- if "Cape Fear" had been written by a room full of monkeys.
Launched into theaters only by the minor marquee power of Dennis Quaid (recent Oscar nominee) and Sharon Stone (attempting a comeback), this glossy stinker pits oblivious cityfolk, who buy a cavernous, overgrown countryside fixer-upper in a foreclosure, against the house's previous owner, a seethingly bankrupt, emotionally unhinged young redneck parolee (Stephen Dorff) who grew up there and wants to prevent family skeletons tumbling out of the still-full closets.
Menacingly feigning aw-shucksiness while working as a handyman for the Quaid clan, Dorff ("Blade," "fear dot com") spends most of the movie scruffy, shirtless and greasy from hard labor while scheming over-scripted scares to rattle the family's resolve. He "saves" Quaid's kids from a snake in the swimming pool he's renovated, laughing that "you don't have to worry about that kind" before cataloging all the region's poisonous species. (Then what do you suppose ominously slithers into every room of the house the next morning as the family sleeps?) He shows Quaid the sledge-like "killin' hammers" used to slaughter sheep when the house was the center of his father's ranch. (Suppose those might turn up again later?)
As the plot toils along in its predictable rut, Dorff's true colors begin to emerge in the form of bar fights and trailer-trash girlfriend beatings witnessed by Quaid, and in evidence that turns up at the house suggesting the psycho's long-missing wife and kids may have been murdered -- all of which is accompanied by Figgis's own score: the sound of someone relentlessly banging on the lower registers of a piano.
Perhaps Figgis (best known for "Leaving Las Vegas") has become so enamored of pompous arthouse experiments (some of which have been good, like his four-camera, single-take groundbreaker "Time Code") that he doesn't know how to make a good commercial movie. Or perhaps he just doesn't care enough to try. But whatever the reason, "Cold Creek Manor" is laughably shopworn, from the ignorance of local law enforcement to Dorff's cliché-riddled abused childhood to the city slickers stupidly putting themselves in danger (e.g.: Stone leans over an open well in a dark forest) to the thunderstorm-accompanied finale -- in which the only surprise is that there is no surprise.
Quaid and Stone, both good actors who never phone in a performance, do what they can with this one-dimensional material and emerge from all the fish-eye lensing and audience second-guessing with their dignity fairly intact. But one more B-movie false step like "Cold Creek Manor" and either of them could wind up headlining the kind of flicks that premiere in the New Releases section at Blockbuster.
Run time: 118 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th September 2003
Box Office USA: $21.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $21.4M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 12%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 97
IMDB: 4.9 / 10
Director: Mike Figgis
Starring: Dennis Quaid as Cooper Tilson, Sharon Stone as Leah Tilson, Stephen Dorff as Dale Massie, Juliette Lewis as Ruby, Kristen Stewart as Kristen Tilson, Ryan Wilson as Jesse Tilson, Dana Eskelson as Sheriff Ferguson, Christopher Plummer as Mr. Massie
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