I once read an article by Stephen King in which he explained why he had such a problem with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining.” To paraphrase, King said that Kubrick had no idea how to make a horror film. As an example, King referred to the scene in which Wendy Torrance is flipping through the reams of Jack’s novel, which turn out to only be pages and pages filled with the same phrase: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Then the camera cuts to Jack sneaking up on Wendy before he yells at her. King made the point that Kubrick ruined this scene by cutting to Jack because the audience knows he’s sneaking up on her. The scare comes when he jumps out, and if you show him before that, you kill the buzz.
While watching “Cold Creek Manor,” I began to feel like Stephen King watching “The Shining.” I just kept thinking that Mike Figgis is clueless on how to make a thriller. He falls into all the traps of a first-time suspense director, and he can’t help but focus on all the depressing faults of the shockingly dull characters.
How does Mike Figgis keep getting money to do movies? He’s making more expensive ones each time. “Cold Creek Manor” couldn’t have been cheap, and it’s been eight years since his breakthrough critical hit “Leaving Las Vegas.”
The set-up isn’t all that bad. Cooper and Leah Tilson (Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone) are tired of living in New York City. After a near-miss traffic accident almost takes the life of their son, they decide to uproot the family and move out into the country. (Of course, the “country” to an urban New Yorker is anything outside of the NY/NJ rail system.) They settle on a small town in upstate New York and buy a foreclosed house and estate called Cold Creek Manor.
If you listen to the advertising, you’ll think there’s a big secret hidden in Cold Creek Manor. Well, there isn’t. The big secret walks up to Cooper and Leah face to face one day in the form of Dale Massie (Brad Dorff), the former owner of the property, who just happened to get out of prison. He creeps everyone out, including their pretty teenage daughter, but Cooper still decides to invite him over for lunch then hire him to fix up the house. This is where the story starts to break down.
Of course, Dale has a secret – the mysterious disappearance of his wife and kids before he went to prison. There’s also a stack of pornographic pictures Dale had apparently taken of his wife that Cooper stumbles across. And, Cooper visits Dale’s dying father in the hospital, who hints at the fact that foul play may have been involved in the death of the family. Still, this doesn’t stop Cooper from allowing Dale free access to his home and family.
The characters of this film are plagued with stupidity. Of course, there’s the idiocy of hiring a convicted felon and former owner of the property you bought at an IRS auction. Did it ever occur to them that Dale wanted the house back? Then there’s the fact that even when a convicted psycho is after them, they keep the windows and doors wide open. I don’t care how hot it is, this is just plain dumb.
One of the online advertisements for “Cold Creek Manor” invites surfers to visit their web site and vote on the scariest clip. The ad reads: “Which clip creeps you out the most?” I’ll tell you what clip in the film creeped ME out the most. It was the gratuitous butt shot of Sharon Stone in pink panties. Let’s just say that if she was ever trying to make a statement that she was no longer a sex symbol to be objectified by the industry, it was with this scene. She’s gone to pot almost as bad as Frank Langella has. I think I would look better in pink panties than she does. It reminds us that part of what made her famous was her sexuality in “Basic Instinct,” and without it, she’s kinda lost.
Figgis couldn’t resist trodding down the same infidelity path that he had in films like “One Night Stand” and Timecode. Completely irrelevant to the story, Leah has a side plot about her boss trying to bed her during a business trip. It’s a cheap plot device and completely out of place in the film. Figgis is one of those directors that sees the world through a filter that enhances all the bad things that humanity has to offer. At least when a director like Woody Allen does this, he comes across funny (at least he used to).
But the biggest sin of “Cold Creek Manor” is that it was just plain boring. It was a 40-minute television show stretched out into two hours. While you might think from the advertising campaign that this will be an eerie psychological thriller, you’ll be bored to tears as Figgis drags you through the mundane lives of these worthless people. When the mildly thrilling parts finally started, I was so irritated with the characters that I couldn’t care who lived and who died.
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