Cold Creek Manor starts out setting the mood for an eerie thriller. Having had enough of the hustle-bustle of New York life the Tilsons-- a documentary filmmaker Cooper (Dennis Quaid) his corporate exec wife Leah (Sharon Stone) and their two kids--seek the quiet serenity of the countryside and buy a repossessed dilapidated manor with intentions of fixing it up. They also inherit the previous owner's personal things which include pornographic photos ominous press clippings and some nasty looking farming tools hanging on the wall. You'd think that would be the first clue things aren't quite right but Cooper finds the stuff fascinating and decides to make a documentary about the place--not realizing the danger which lurks around the corner. Up pops Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) a mean-as-a-snake redneck just out of prison whose looking to come home to the house that's been in his family for generations except the house has strangers living in it. He doesn't take too kindly to that fact and nor do the rest of the townsfolk who rally around him. The volatile ex-con tries everything possible to get the Tilsons out--as well as keep them from finding out the grisly truth about what happened in the manor--but instead of getting scarier the film falls apart. Ultimately what could potentially been a real frightfest simply denigrates into another typical good guy-bad guy showdown.
Cold Creek Manor's cast do what they can with formulaic characters. Quaid hot off a career jump with last year's gems The Rookie and Far from Heaven handles Cooper with the requisite amount of citified savvy an urban hipster adjusting to country living who is saddled with protecting his family from a raging lunatic while as his wife Stone basically sleepwalks through most of the movie with phoned-in screams and scared looks. It's a shame the talented actress decided to get back into the swing of moviemaking with such a dull part (her last movie was 2000's Beautiful Joe). Dorff (feardotcom) on the other hand gets to chew his way through the film as the over-the-top Dale. There's really no question of who the villain is when Dale comes on the screen all sweaty and menacing flexing his pecs with a wild look in his eyes and Dorff plays it full-tilt with not a subtle bone in his body. Juliette Lewis makes an appearance as Dale's trailer-trash girlfriend who sticks up for him even after he gives her a bloody nose in public (why you never really know). Yet the only genuine standout worth mentioning is Kristen Stewart who did such a great job as Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room. Stewart plays Tilson's sullen teenage daughter Kristen able to convey to Dale with just a scowl that she knows he's trouble. The young actress could be one to look out for.
With such a promising start Cold Creek Manor could have been a real nail-biter; instead the film is rife with missed opportunities. Screenwriter Richard Jefferies and director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) choose to go the typical thriller route rather than build the suspense on the more intriguing aspects of the story namely the house and the secrets it hides. Instead Figgis first concentrates on Cooper and how he has to prove to everyone including his wife why he doesn't trust the seemingly helpful Dale. Then Figgis turns to Dale who is so obviously a psychopath it's hard to understand why anyone would buy him as a normal guy. Cold Creek is reminiscent of the 1990 thriller Pacific Heights about a couple who rents out part of their dream house to a sociopath who ruins their lives. Far from a classic Heights still holds up as a scary thriller--although you always know who the villain is you are nonetheless terrified wondering when and how his clever deadly tactics will strike next. In Cold Creek the enemy is too visible too recognizable and has little method to his madness. The final confrontation is so overdone--Dale chasing Cooper and Leah around the house one of those menacing farm tools in hand while a storm rages outside-- that you feel cheated.
October 25, 2002 1:51pm EST
Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) leads a salvage team of five people aboard the tugboat Arctic Warrior with Maureen (Julianna Margulies) as something of a second in command. At a bar one night the crew is approached by a Canadian Air Force pilot (Desmond Harrington) who while monitoring icebergs in the Bering Sea spotted a mysterious vessel. He offers to divulge its location for a cut of whatever it's worth. What the crew finds are the decaying remains of the Antonio Graza an Italian cruise ship thought to be lost at sea for more than 40 years. While scavenging the vessel for valuables the salvage team discovers that something horrendous happened on board four decades ago. To make matters worse the crew starts seeing ghosts including a little girl named Katie (Emily Browning) who warns them to get off the ship before it's too late. Let's just say that the plot involves something about a ghost tricking people into boarding the ship in order to amass a certain amount of souls and complete a mission of sorts. Don't be surprised if you find yourself scratching your head when the ghost's true intentions are revealed--the film leaves many questions unanswered.
Former ER star Margulies (Dinosaur) shares the lead here with Byrne (End of Days) and the most refreshing thing of all is that there is no romance between the two characters. Maureen is a tough and independent woman who has no qualms about living at sea with a bunch of grubby men and Margulies portrays that well. We are told that Maureen and Byrne's character Murphy have a father-daughter-type relationship but that is not explored on screen. While Byrne plays a convincing rugged sea captain his character is never delved into and is dismissed rather abruptly. In fact that is the biggest problem with most of the actors and their characters; they are more like slightly more developed extras brought in to become victims rather than the film's protagonists. Harrington's (We Were Soldiers) character Jack is not as glazed over as the others and the actor conveys the different sides of his personality well enough. The rest of the crew including Ron Eldard as Dodge Isaiah Washington as First Mate Greer Alex Dimitriades as Santos and Karl Urban as Munder do the best they could with the flat and disposable characters they are given.
Ghost Ship opens up with a fantastic scene that involves hundreds of crewmembers and passengers getting dismembered by a high tension wire that slices across the boats main deck. Too bad it's so implausible because unless the wire was lined with razor blades all those bodies wouldn't have been severed so neatly. The massacre is set aboard the Antonio Graza back in 1962 when cruises were still considered a luxury. But when the film zips back to present day it becomes less imaginative and director Steve Beck (Thirteen Ghosts) dips into the old haunted-stories bag o' tricks including ghost reflections in mirrors. But while the gags are a little worn they still scare and are constant enough to keep the film from lagging. The film comes in under 90 minutes which isn't short enough to graze over some of the story's plot holes. The characters for example jump in and out of the icy Bering Sea without the slightest quiver even though their survival time in the 45-degree waters would be measured in minutes. And if Ghost Ship sounds familiar that's because it was made in 1997 and called Event Horizon except that rescue mission was set in the year 2047 aboard a space ship.