|It's usually a difficult task to criticize Sharon Stone or Dennis Quaid in any of their theatrical outings since they're generally considered to be fine actors. And in Cold Creek Manor, both prove that they do indeed have some talent in front of the camera, but their talent in choosing films in which to star leaves something to be desired. In what amounts to a creepy thriller without the creeps and the thrills, Manor is a well-made and polished film that seems to be missing its bumps in the night. The word, "contrived," comes to mind when trying to describe the types of chills that director, Mike Figgis, tries to make the film elicit, and without real hair-standing-on-end chills, a thriller isn't a thriller at all. It's a ninety-nine cent last-minute rental at Blockbuster.|
The director has created the proper mood for a creepy crawly thriller, but what happens after the mood is created is nothing less than completely predictable. When something does happen that's supposed to jar you out of your seat, you've probably already ascertained that the frightening action was going to happen before it indeed happened, so it's not a surprise and therefore holds no thrills. If the word, "bland," could be used to describe this film, perhaps the word, "plodding," could be used as well.
The film moves far too slowly to the next (predictable) "thrill" and so it's nearly impossible to get really worked up to wonder what's going to happen next. The combination of predictability and a slowly moving narrative dooms this film from the start. If the thrills (no matter how easy to predict they were) had been thrown at the audience at every second, perhaps there wouldn't have been ample time to deduce what was going to come next.
But since the picture plods along at the pace of a strolling turtle, the audience has nothing better to do than easily predict which hole the characters will fall in next. And given the somewhat glossy nature of the family (the picture-perfect greeting card family), there will probably come a time when some viewers actually start rooting for the bad guy to have it out with Stone or Quaid. But the machinations that their characters go through are quite the over-used variety and it makes one wonder why this screenplay wasn't rewritten before principle photography began. Was it not obvious to the producers that the thrills had been used a thousand times before?
Poor Juliette Lewis is again an under-used actor in this film (one of her last roles, in the critically lamented Enough was an insult to her dramatic abilities) and seems to have become the Rodney Dangerfield of female actors. She just doesn't get any respect. It's like the small town folk versus big town yuppie aspect of the film. This dynamic has been done before and its insulting to about ninety percent of the people on the planet (who don't live in New York or Los Angeles) to suggest that "country folk" just don't know their right from their left and would all gladly take a pitchfork to any city dweller who tried to encroach on their little piece of in the middle-of-nowhere heaven.
Though the film suffers from an avoidance of good plot, there's no evidence to suggest that the crewmembers in the areas of cinematography and production design had anything but the best intentions in creating a beautiful visual design for the viewer to watch. While the narrative might not grip one by the shoulders for a shake, the look of the film is expertly done and is one of the best components. The editing might have been worth mentioning if it had not been so inherently tied to the plot. Since the story's so predictable, it's hard to appreciate the luke-warm thrills the screenplay tries to create and the editing reflects only what the editor was able to accomplish given the material with which he had to work.
But a film cannot be considered a success on the basis of beautiful cinematography alone. And could neither the suitable performances from the lead cast members save this film. A mystery, by definition, can only rope the audience in by making it impossible to tear one's eyes away from the screen for fear they might miss a tantalizing piece of information needed to unravel the plot. But it's too easy to decipher the ending far before the film actually ends.
And for that mystery to be considered a successful thriller, the moments when the filmmakers attempt to scare the audience need to be more subtle. Knowing what's going to happen to a character makes it impossible to receive any dose of excitement when the event actually occurs. Avoid Cold Creek Manor in the theater. Pick it up at the video store only if you're curious to see a luke-warm potboiler whose cast deserved better material.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.