In Cold Creek Manor, documentary filmmaker Cooper Tilson (Dennis Quaid) and his corporate-bigwig wife Leah (Sharon Stone) relocate their family from New York City to a dilapidated country estate previously owned by an ex-con (Stephen Dorff) with killer obliques. As written by Richard Jefferies, the film is more or less a variation of his 1992 black comedy The Vagrant, which featured a yuppie played by Bill Paxton trying to get rid of the dirty bum who lives near his new house. Because the film is also a contract job for Mike Figgis, the seemingly superfluous hot air exchanged between the film’s country bumpkins and city folk has a way of mirroring the director’s own 15-year back-and-forth between Hollywood and independent productions. Leah contemplates having an affair with a business associate who promises her a V.P. position. Though she’s scared of the cutbacks within the company, she leaves her job and stays with her husband whose “low budget stuff” is his “labor of love.” When the family moves to the titular abode, Cooper inexplicably starts making a documentary about the family who used to live there and Dorff’s handyman is understandably peeved by the defilement of his family’s past. “You should have stayed in New York,” says Dale, as if pushing Figgis back to the DV grit and split-screens of his last few films. Because it’s easy to read Figgis’s own failed indie experiments (no one checked into his Hotel several months ago) and struggles with demanding studios in Cooper’s run-ins with Dale (Dorff), it’s also easy to read much more into the film than is really there. A local cop makes a passing reference to a cult, and because the locals (thank God for Juliette Lewis!) are all too willing to freak the Tilsons out with their country hospitality, you may think that the strange things that happen to the family are an elaborate con by the town collective. The film’s two best moments involve characters making ghoulish discoveries (one inside a child’s scrapbook, another inside a well), and Figgis shoots each sequence with an almost nonchalant detachment. But despite the occasional freakish framing device and one humorous coordinated bout of snake-induced hysteria, Cold Creek Manor is neither as funny as it should be nor is it as mysterious as its initial self-reflexivity would have you believe. Actually, the film is every bit as cut and dry as the someone’s-going-to-fall-through-that-later stained glass that the Tilson’s find inside their new home.
- Mike Figgis
- Richard Jefferies
- Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Wilson, Dana Eskelson, Christopher Plummer
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