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Honey, I love this house. What say we move in?

Director Mike Figgis' 'Cold Creek Manor' adds a little satire to the bumps in the night.

September 19, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

With "Cold Creek Manor," gifted and idiosyncratic director Mike Figgis has sophisticated fun with the old-dark-house thriller genre and brings to it a subtly satirical edge. The result is a lightweight popcorn movie, hardly the scariest of the year but with enough jolts to be satisfying. Writer Richard Jefferies' solid script emphasizes character and psychology over plot and provides Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone with engaging, multidimensional starring roles.

Quaid and Stone's Cooper and Leah Tilson are a successful Manhattan couple with two children (Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson). Cooper is a documentary filmmaker, Leah an executive, but a swift succession of events motivates them to seek the peace and quiet of country life. In rural upstate New York they come upon a run-down, turn-of-the-last-century Tudor brick mansion and decide it is their dream house, an amusingly unlikely choice since it is about as inviting as an open grave.

Cold Creek Manor had been repossessed, but the filmmakers cleverly withhold that information until just the right moment. As the family settles in, a scruffy young man (Stephen Dorff) with a sexual swagger and an overly familiar manner shows up and talks them into hiring him to help get the place back in shape.

No more of the plot need be revealed. As a documentarian Cooper naturally has an inquisitive mind and a passion for research, and faced with scads of family papers strewn about the mansion, he starts digging into the history of the previous owners. But as the film unfolds, it deftly taps into primal urges and passions. The Tilson marriage is about to be put to the test.

Figgis builds tension gradually, and his score hits just the right note of foreboding. Refreshingly, Quaid and Stone have the opportunity to play completely normal, likable and intelligent people, with Stone cast as a woman who early on discovers a need to sort out her priorities. Their children are bright and have a tendency to see people as they are, free of the rationalizations that can derail adult perceptions and judgment.

Juliette Lewis is Dorff's sullen waitress girlfriend, Dana Eskelson is her no-nonsense local sheriff sister, and Christopher Plummer an irascible invalid.

Production designer Leslie Dilley and his crew did a terrific job of making the film's key setting -- a mansion in a small town outside Toronto in the process of restoration -- look dilapidated, showing its gradual progress to refurbished glory. Figgis doesn't condescend to the conventions of genre, and his affectionate humor makes "Cold Creek Manor" a pleasure to watch.


'Cold Creek Manor'

MPAA rating: R, for violence, language and some sexuality.

Times guidelines: Too intense for children.

Dennis Quaid...Cooper Tilson

Sharon Stone...Leah Tilson

Stephen Dorff...Dale

Juliette Lewis...Ruby

Christopher Plummer...Mr. Massie

A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Red Mullet production. Director composer Mike Figgis. Producers Annie Stewart and Figgis, Lata Ryan. Executive producers Richard Jefferies, Declan Quinn. Screenplay Jefferies. Cinematographer Quinn. Editor Dylan Tichenor. Costumes Marie-Sylvie Deveau. Production designer Leslie Dilley. Supervising art director Peter Grundy. Art director Nancy Pankiw. Set decorators Michael Seirton, Patricia Cuccia. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.

In general release.

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