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Cold Creek Manor

  Cold Creek Manor
Sharon Stone finds Stephen Dorff's willingness to engage in blatant partial nudity shocking.

© 2003, Touchstone Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Sick of the big city life in New York, Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Leah Tilson (Sharon Stone) have decided to move to the country with their children and leave their complicated urban ways behind. Finding the gigantic Cold Creek Manor for sale, the Tilsons move in and begin to enjoy the quiet rural life. Trouble arrives with the appearance of Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), the former owner of the Manor who lost the estate while serving time in prison. Dale is not happy with the new owners, and while Cooper investigates the history of Cold Creek Manor, Dale is busy making plans to take the property back.

Seeing director Mike Figgis' name listed in the "Cold Creek Manor" (IMDb listing) credits raises some very big questions. After all, he is a filmmaker who has had no trouble leading with his own creative vision ("Time Code"), even when working on big studio projects ("One Night Stand"). "Manor" is a customary thriller, using bark pulled from the same tree that spawned other residence paranoia films like "Pacific Heights" and "Burnt Offerings." So what does Figgis want with this script? That's a good question, with "Manor" not resembling the standard thriller it most certainly is for its first two acts. His placement at the helm of the picture is an interesting move by the producers as well, as Figgis lives up to his reputation steering "Manor" away from the more clichéd reaches of the script and pumping the dry script film full of sexual tension (a Figgis specialty). And when the picture has to deal directly with formula, Figgis has a way of keeping it fun, mocking the line that separates drama from camp. His work in "Manor" is the most focused Figgis has been in a long time, but the film is not his most artistically taxing.

"Manor" isn't quite the horror film the marketing would suggest, but more of a thriller. It features little bloodshed, but plenty of tight suspense sequences. Figgis stages these moments with aplomb, forming a suspenseful drama out of less than original parts. The highlight of the film is a mid-movie snake attack on the Tilson household. Figgis shows remarkable competence in his ability to piece together something as silly as, well, a snake attack. "Manor" doesn't beg for believability; it's a light thrill ride of chills and drama that isn't made much anymore. If the film feels empty in the end, it's only because Hollywood usually fills these pictures up with action and blitzkrieg style. Figgis keeps the movie low to the ground, and "Manor" is successful and agreeable because of it.

It is in the climax of the picture where Figgis succumbs to studio or possibly test-screening pressure. Figgis gives in completely to clichés and plays out the finale of the film in a cataclysmic rainstorm (is there any other kind?), and writes off the mounting tension with a weak one-liner. It breaks the heart to see this spunky thriller end with such a resounding whimper; made even worse with fleeting images in my head of Figgis' hands tied behind his back while the moneymen made the changes without his consent. Waiting to see how Figgis would end this tricky tale was part of the initial appeal of the film. I find it sad to report that it seems he might not have had a say in the matter at all.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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