[Screen It]


(2003) (Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A filmmaker tries to uncover the mystery behind an old manor and its past owners after he and his family move into it.
Cooper (DENNIS QUAID) and Leah Tilson (SHARON STONE) have decided to give up the city life of New York for the countryside of Bellingham. There, they've purchased a dilapidated estate known as Cold Creek Manor and move in with their teenager daughter, Kristen (KRISTEN STEWART), and her younger brother, Jesse (RYAN WILSON).

A documentary filmmaker, Cooper is intrigued by the history of the house, particularly since the foreclosure on it left all of its belongings - albeit in disarray - still there and ready for examination. They then meet the former owner, Dale Massie (STEPHEN DORFF), who states he just got out of prison and would like to work for them restoring the house back to its once prominent state.

The Tilsons hesitantly agree, but soon find things going downhill from there as Ray slowly start to show his true colors. His girlfriend, Ruby (JULIETTE LEWIS), tells Cooper to watch his back, but her sister, Sheriff Ferguson (DANA ESKELSON), doesn't initially seem able or willing to help.

Realizing he needs to figure out what happened at the manor, Cooper goes to interview Dale's father (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER), who's in a nursing home, but all he gets out of him is something about the Devil's Throat. With the locals becoming suspicious of them and Dale becoming increasingly unstable, Cooper and his family try to uncover the mystery regarding him and his former home before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
When we bought our most recent house, I was certainly glad the Internet was around. That's because while things such as termites, radon and nearby airports must be disclosed in certain locales, suicides, crimes and, if you believe in them, ghosts are not. A few quick searches on the Internet revealed that nothing amiss or out of the ordinary previously occurred at our future address.

I'm not sure that such a search would have helped the Tilson family in their purchase of the titular subject in "Cold Creek Manor." It will help viewers of this movie, however, as reviews will point out what the releasing studio obviously won't disclose. And that is that they have a stinker of a thriller on their hands that goes from boring, slow and recycled to ludicrous, laughable and really bad by the time the end credits roll around.

Based on the ads, I wasn't sure what to expect, be it a haunting type house problem such as in "The Amityville Horror" and "The Shining," or a more flesh and blood one as occurred in "Cape Fear." As directed by Mike Figgis ("Timecode," "Leaving Las Vegas") from a script by Richard Jefferies ("Scarecrows," "Blood Tide"), the film leans far more toward the latter although it tries to play off the obsessed protagonist bit from the former. Unfortunately, it succeeds at neither.

Lifting elements from those films and a host of others, the picture strives to be one of those efforts where the antagonist straddles the line between lawful and illegal while harassing his intended victims. While that's worked in other films - often brilliantly, I should say - it doesn't here.

That's simply because everything is too obvious, the nebulous quality of the antagonist's actions isn't constructed in a clever enough fashion to engage us, and things ranging from small details to large developments just don't ring true.

Since there aren't any supernatural elements to lessen our suspension of disbelief needs, various actions and reactions end up coming off as so ludicrous and contrived that they remove us from the proceedings (as we roll our eyes, etc.). Since it's all played so seriously, there isn't a chance for the film to take on an entertaining camp value. Thus, even the "don't go in there" moments lack any sort of punch or fun as they aren't conceived or executed well enough to be entertaining in a giddy, haunted house fashion.

That said, the talented cast - including the likes of Dennis Quaid ("Far From Heaven," "Frequency"), Sharon Stone ("The Muse," "Basic Instinct"), Juliette Lewis ("Old School," "The Other Sister") and Christopher Plummer ("The Insider," "The Sound of Music") probably wish they could have researched the script a bit more before signing on the dotted line.

Quaid and Stone play the standard-issue couple that buys the house and moves in with their kids, only to end up arguing, fretting and eventually fighting for their lives. While capable performers, they simply can't do anything with their roles as written.

The same holds true for Lewis who plays the white trash girlfriend to the film's villain, a loose canon antagonist embodied by Stephen Dorff ("Deuces Wild," "Blade"). While appropriately maniacal by the end, his villainous character is so routine, uninteresting and not particularly scary that such weakness robs the film of its thriller potential. It also greatly diminishes the cathartic release for viewers once he's finally dispatched (the one positive thing is that at least he doesn't make the sudden return following that).

Supporting performances are generally okay but completely unremarkable, including from Dana Eskelson ("Past Midnight," "Singles") as a sheriff who makes one long for Frances McDormand. Plummer does a decent job, though, as the cantankerous and mean old geezer bedded up in a nursing home.

If you've never seen the likes of "Cape Fear," "Unlawful Entry" or any number of other domestic intruder flicks, you might possibly find this one suspenseful to some small degree. Everyone else, however, will probably be wishing that some spooky doings, or at least more plausible and creative filmmaking were at hand. "Cold Creek Manor" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 17, 2003 / Posted September 19, 2003

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