Cold Creek Manor (September 30/03)
It's interesting that the folks behind Cold Creek Manor's marketing campaign are trying to trick people into thinking it's a mystery/thriller, somewhere along the lines of The Sixth Sense, because it's really not. At all. The film actually marks the return of that cheesy "psychopath from Hell" genre that was so popular in the '90s, with films like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Pacific Heights. Now, I'll admit that I have something of a soft spot for flicks of that ilk, so just keep that in mind as you progress through the review.
The film stars Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone as Cooper and Leah Tilson, a successful couple with two kids (played by Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson) that decide to move out into the country. They find a sprawling mansion that seems to good to be true, and promptly purchase it. Everything's fine and dandy, until a former resident of the house named Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) shows up and essentially bullies Cooper into hiring him as a handyman. After a series of bizarre occurrences (including a snake infestation and the mysterious death of the family horse), Cooper wisely discharges Dale from his position - but the Tilson's troubles are just beginning.
At the helm of Cold Creek Manor is Mike Figgis, a truly odd choice - especially when you consider his body of work. Flicks like Timecode and Leaving Las Vegas don't exactly scream out mainstream entertainment, so his presence behind the camera here is truly baffling. It might have made sense if Cold Creek Manor was, you know, a good movie but this is about as silly as thrillers get (it's the kind of movie that, during the final showdown between the good guy and the bad guy, the bad guy talks just long enough for the good guy to come up with a plan to extricate himself from the situation). While the movie remains watchable throughout, it's hard not to groan at some of the incredibly over-the-top moments - most notably Dorff's entire performance. Though he's never exactly been a subtle actor, Dorff usually manages to reign in his more theatrical tendencies and save the histrionics for apt moments. There's nothing understated about the character of Dale Massie, a psycho so sinister even the way he smokes is threatening.
On the other side of the spectrum is Quaid, who once again gives a compelling and interesting performance. Though his Cooper is a tad more inquisitive than he should be - after the whole dead-horse thing, it'd be reasonable to expect he'd head for the hills - Quaid nevertheless turns the character into a likeable figure that we're rooting for. He's perhaps a little too likeable; the difference between Cooper and Dale is essentially the difference between good and evil, with zero shades of gray. The same can be said of the rest of the movie, which remains fairly entertaining throughout - but also straddles the line between being merely predictable and all-out ludicrous. Depending on your tolerance for such films, it'll either be easy or difficult to accept this unabashedly absurd story.