Let's cut to the chase here: Cold Creek Manor is half-thriller and half-drama, although neither half is as fresh and original as I was hoping for. Essentially, it's a movie that has been done many times before, albeit with a few minor alterations and atmospheric touches. It does an admirable job, but fails to be anything but standard fare for Hollywood thrillers. To its discredit, I was constantly reminded of many earlier films…most notably Cape Fear and Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs.
Here's the lowdown: the Tilson family finds that city life has really caught up with them, which culminates in a headache-inducing day that nearly gets one family member killed. Tired of the busy, hectic schedule that New York City life demands, they decide to pack up and move to the country. After looking around at a few places, they decide on a run-down mansion for a bargain price, which is filled with the belongings of the Massie family (previous owners of the property). The father, Cooper Tilson (Dennis Quaid) works as a producer and director for documentaries, so he decides to dig up the memories found therein. Problem is, at least one of the Massies still lurks in the shadows, and isn't about to let all of the house's secrets be discovered.
On the surface, it's not a bad effort, with a capable directing job by Mike Figgis and decent performances from the cast. The problem is, once again, Cold Creek Manor provides nothing that filmgoers haven't seen before. Outside of Cooper's job as a documentarian, there's really nothing else for the family to do except sit around and kill time. Not much depth is given to his wife, Leah (Sharon Stone) or their two children, so they end up like bait instead of vital parts to the story.
In addition to these basic problems, Cold Creek Manor also suffers from terrible pacing. While the second half of the movie picks up nicely, there's an awful lot of set-up, and most of it isn't even necessary. There are also several spots where people act completely out of character, with the children being the worst offenders. Exhibit #1: Early on in the movie, young daughter Kristen is portrayed as a smart-mouthed girl whose only real hobby seems to be talking on her cell phone. Five minutes later, she suddenly turns into 'Daddy's little girl' and loves horses. Overall, the whole family seemed almost too comfortable with the transition from big-city to middle-of-nowhere...by far, it's the movie's most glaring flaw.
However, I must say that there were some positive points here. Though I didn't care for some of the characters, the performances were uniformly good. Stephen Dorff does a particularly nice job with the role of the creepy Dale Massie, and never goes the cartoonish route. Also excellent in his brief screen time is Christopher Plummer, almost unrecognizable is his portrayal of Dale's father. Other notables include Juliette Lewis and Dana Eskelson as polar opposite sisters who each have important roles in the story. However, without a rock-solid story to anchor these performances, Cold Creek Manor still flounders in the water as a movie that arrived about 15 years too late.
After failing miserably at the box office, you would think that Buena Vista would shrug this off with a bare-bones DVD. Not so, as fans of the movie are treated to a solid technical presentation and a handful of bonus features. Lets see what we get:
Quality Control Department
Less than a year old, Cold Creek Manor looks as excellent as you'd expect. Colors are subdued but very sharp, blacks are very solid, and there virtually no imperfections to be found on. Overall, this 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks fantastic, and should really please fans of the movie. Even if you can't get into the story of Cold Creek Manor, it's at least pleasing to the eye.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Surround (English or French), as is also as clear and refined as you'd expect for a new movie. Immersive and atmospheric, the audio mix for Cold Creek Manor won't blow you out of the room, but it's a pleasing experience overall. Although some of the scenes weren't as surround-heavy as expected, this is still an admirable job. Unfortunately, the original DTS mix isn't included, and would have been a welcome addition to an already-decent job in this department.
Menu design and presentation:
Menus are well done, and were a little fancier than expected. Presented in the sometimes-unnecessary but always-immersive 3-D style, they are a nice atmospheric compliment to the movie. Navigation is smooth and simple, and menu transitions are also fairly quick. The packaging itself is a little more standard, but gets the job done.
A good mix of stuff on paper, and a few of these bonus features get the job done. First up is an Audio Commentary with director Mike Figgis, who does an admiral job covering the technical aspects of the movie, but comes across as fairly dry and boring. This isn't the most entertaining commentary you'll hear, but it's still not a bad listen. Next up are a pair of featurettes: Cooper's Documentary and Rules of the Genre. For the former, I was hoping for raw footage (like the videotape in The Ring), but each of these featurettes is a somewhat standard behind-the-scenes affair. Also on the negative side, they cover much of the same ground as the commentary. Slightly more interesting are a series of Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending, with an introduction by Figgis. While the deleted scenes aren't anything special (but are still worth a look), the alternate ending is more fitting than the one used in the movie, IMO. Definitely worth a look, and should also have been made available via seamless branching. Bringing up the rear are a series of Sneek Peeks for five upcoming Buena Vista DVDs, including Haunted Mansion and Hidalgo.
Overall, bonus features were standard fare for most avid DVD enthusiasts, but it's not a bad spread. The theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found, but maybe that's a good thing…most who saw it were expecting a supernaturally-themed horror movie. This trailer was a classic example of poor marketing, and I can't blame those who hated the movie because they were expecting something else.
On its own, Cold Creek Manor is far too straightforward to be considered a passable thriller. For one, I didn't find it to be scary (or thrilling), but maybe you'll see something I didn't. Overall, it might make for a halfway-decent weekend rental, but it doesn't carry enough weight to be considered a blind buy (especially with the high MSRP). If you liked this in theaters, Buena Vista's DVD offers an excellent technical presentation and a decent set of bonus features, so you have nothing to worry about. However, most everyone else should proceed with caution and Rent It first.
Other Links of Interest
Mike Figgis filmography at IMDb
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.