Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Cold Creek Manor



USA 2003 : Mike FIGGIS : 119 mins

Many of Figgiss previous movies have had noirish and/or thriller aspects, but Cold Creek Manor is plunges into new, luridly gothic, potboiling territory – to which he proves spectacularly ill-suited. To be fair, he’s saddled with a dreadful screenplay (by Richard Jefferies) which seems to lack several crucial scenes problems which were perhaps exacerbated in post-production. Editor Dylan Tichenors amazing track-record (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Unbreakable), however, suggests the blame shouldn’t be laid at the cutting-room door. And Figgis must definitely carry the can for his thuddingly over-emphatic score, a blatant and counter-productive attempt to convince us were watching a full-blooded nailbiter.

Well-off-but-stressed-out Manhattanites businesswoman Leah Tilson (Sharon Stone) and documentary film-maker husband Cooper (Dennis Quaid) move to the country, reckoning its a safer environment for their children: stroppy adolescent Kristen (Kristen Stewart) and pre-teen Jesse (Ryan Wilson). Trawling the upstate countryside, they buy secluded Cold Creek Manor and its entire, copious contents – which Cooper immediately starts assembling as family-history research for a future documentary. Hes startled when the houses previous owner Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) shows up, fresh from three years in prison during which time the bank foreclosed on his mortgage. Despite his redneck appearance and boorish table-habits, Massie seems friendly, and starts working for the Tilsons as they restore the neglected mansion. But it isn’t long before Cooper suspects Massie of ulterior motives and, perhaps, psychotic tendencies

Cold Creek Manor is a limp re-hash of Scorseses Cape Fear a fact which casting that movies Juliette Lewis (as Dales trailer-tramp girlfriend Ruby) only serves to emphasise. In the Max Cady role of tattooed, ranting, musclebound, unhinged avenger, Dorff glowers for all his worth – if nothing else he provides a little energy and sexual tension, while the young Stewart confirms the strong impression she made in Panic Room. Quaid and Stone, however, seem uncomfortable in their sloppily characterised roles: he’s rather too rugged and over-muscled to convince as the his wishy-washy, easily-intimidated Cooper, while Stone is asked to be a take-no-nonsense Noo Yawker one minute, a hapless damsel-in-distress the next.

Their most ludicrous moment comes when, mistaking Leah for Dale through a mucky tarpaulin, Cooper knocks her to the ground – from which supine position she plays out the rest of the scene. Theres another laughable bit when the pair discover a mysterious hidden well known as The Devils Throat (the films original title): watch out for an unexplained and very fake-looking piece of timber with EVIL carved on it, which an baffled-looking Cooper discards without comment. Of course, somebody ends up getting thrown down the well, where they slosh around in the water among decaying corpses a very unwise homage to Hideo Nakatas Ring, perhaps.

Figgis also makes a complete hash of the climactic, unsatisfactorily brief rooftop confrontation with the demented Dale. By this point, the sloppiness of the storytelling is really starting to take its toll simultaneous developments elsewhere involving Ruby and her sister, the local Sheriff (Dana Eskelson, very good in a nothing role), prove nothing more than a time-wasting diversion. Likewise, it isn’t at all clear how Cooper has managed to puzzle out Dales terrible secrets given the meagre clues available.

Incompetence, of course, is no crime and Cold Creek Manor does at least boast some interesting tracking camerawork and mildly fish-eyed lensing from cinematographer Declan Quinn. But its otherwise so sloppily as to verges on an insult to its viewers intelligence. The most offensive aspect of the film, however, is the subtext: Jefferies and Figgis crass handling of class conflict. The audience is invited to identify with the smug, sophisticated Tillsons in their hatred of the animalistic, violent, beer-swilling Dale, a cardboard-demon caricature of an underclass (simultaneously old-money and trailer-trash) which must be eradicated and/or exorcised as the rural landscape becomes progressively gentrified and suburbanised. Its cautionary, bourgeois-nightmare material at its most perfunctory and irresponsible.

22nd November, 2003
(seen 21st November : Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle screening introduced by Figgis)


by Neil Young