“Cold Creek Manor” is a woefully predictable imperiled-yuppie-family-under-siege suspenser that hardly seems worth the attention of its relatively high-profile participants. Taking a break from his multiple-perspective digicam experiments, helmer Mike Figgis displays at best a half-hearted interest in delivering the commercial genre goods, while Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone fish in vain to find any angles to play in their dimension-free characters. Disney will have to hope the campaign’s haunted-house hook will lure fright-chasing auds on opening weekend, because word of mouth will trigger a quick B.O. collapse in subsequent stanzas.
When the young son of high-powered Manhattan business exec Leah Tilson (Stone) and indie documaker husband Cooper (Quaid) is almost run over by a Lincoln Navigator, they abruptly decide it’s time to get out of the city and buy a dilapidated country manse at a fire-sale price.
But the Tilsons make the mistake of not inquiring who lived there previously and why they had to leave. They soon find out, when shifty redneck Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) turns up straight from three years in the pen and asks if they wouldn’t like him to help fix up the house he used to live in.
So as Dale repairs the swimming pool and generally lurks about, ogling the Tilsons’ teenage daughter Kristen (Kristen Stewart), arousing the suspicions of son Jesse (Ryan Wilson), brandishing his sweaty six-pack abs for Leah’s delectation and developing a simmering antagonism with Cooper, you know it’s only a manner of time before the milquetoasty hubby is forced to summon his inner warrior and do battle with the ill-intentioned interloper. It’s only surprising that he doesn’t sit down to watch “Straw Dogs” or “Cape Fear” to get with the program sooner.
Routine material urgently needed some offbeat character contouring to make it vaguely interesting, but screenwriter Richard Jefferies doesn’t make the Tilsons anything more than generic upscale urbanites being given a hard time by some uncouth rural ne’er-do-wells. Leah, as written, is far too naive and unguarded where Dale is concerned, given the more proper skepticism of the rest of her family. Cooper could at least have been handed some stature via intellectual or creative abilities; as it is, making the man a filmmaker seems mostly like an excuse for Figgis to fool around with video imagery in story context.
Dorff makes for an easy-to-hate, resentment-fueled baddie who’s given an endless leash by slutty g.f. Ruby (Juliette Lewis). Dana Eskelson brings some appealing shadings to her role as the local sheriff, who happens to be Ruby’s sister, although disappointingly little is done with this plot detail. A gray-bearded Christopher Plummer has a couple of juicy scenes as Dale’s aged, variably out-of-it father.
Heavy use of wide-angle lenses reminds of too many cheap horror films and isn’t very flattering of the thesps. Figgis’ score hits the menacing notes right on the head, to no avail in the thrill department.