"Cold Creek Manor" is probably the first film since 9/11 to show a family from New York that for some reason decides the city isn't worth living in anymore and purchases a house in the rural country. And when they know the property they're purchasing is called Cold Creek Manor, you know they really no longer desire to live in New York.
The film simply starts off on the wrong foot and it remains that way throughout its entirety. As it opens, we see the Tilson family start their day from their New York City home, but then a series of events make city life seem unlivable . Leah (Sharon Stone) heads for work at 4:30 in the morning to her business executive job but forgets to reset the alarm clock. Her husband Cooper (Dennis Quaid) wakes up late as a result and has to rush the kids, Jesse and Kristen (Ryan Wilson and Kristen Stewart) to private school before they're marked tardy. On the way, traffic slows them down and impatient New Yorkers constantly honk and yell because apparently nobody is happy in this community. "That's it," this family decides, "We need to move out of the city."
So they move into Cold Creek Manor, a mansion whose condition is beyond reasonable repair. Leah gleefully tells her neighbors "we plan to work on it for two years" but even that duration might not be long enough. The house formerly belonged to a family who left in such a hurry that all of their belonging and possessions remain. This is when the movie gets creepy, and it's not because we're introduced to the villain. The scariest part of the movie is the mother, who allows her son to move into a room where all the clothes in the closet belong to its former wearer, and where morbidly disturbing poems (that Jesse soon memorizes) lay scattered throughout covered in dust.
The reason the Tilsons moved in--though still unclear--is because Cooper is making a documentary about the previous family who occupied the home. He sets up a work station and examines evidence including photographs, video and file folders to complete his documentary.
The family soon meets Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff), the previous owner who lets himself in because this family doesn't believe in locks or changing them despite coming from New York. He tells the Tilsons after inviting himself to dinner that he missed a few payments and was kicked out of the house that his grandfather built.
To show no hard feelings, Cooper offers Dale work around the house as he's in need of job having just been released from prison for reasons unrelated to why he should have been locked up. There is something suspicious about Dale, probably because his wife and two kids mysteriously vanished not too long ago. Maybe I was just paranoid when I saw the film, but I just didn't buy Dale's "they packed up and left" story.
Of course we know something's up, but unfortunately it takes the Tilsons about two hours of our time before they realize anything. Cooper uncovers more clues and often goes into town where locals appear to know something he doesn't. But they don't like outsiders and don't treat him very well. The one sheriff (Dana Eskelson) in the town who Dale meets seems friendly, although she too comes off cold.
Strange things start happening, such as the sudden infestation of poisonous snakes inside the house. Cooper immediately suspects Dale, claiming that he's trying to chase the Tilsons out of his old house by strategically placing snakes in the beds and under the refrigerator (this is possible because the house is always unlocked).
Cooper and Dale start getting into verbal conflicts and weirder things start happening around the house. Is there a correlation between the happenings in the home and Dale's growing anger? We soon find out. But hey, maybe Dale has nothing to do with the snakes and broken windows to begin with.
"Cold Creek Manor" completely lacks thrills and is short on suspense because the story doesn't allow for any plot twists or new revelations. Wait, scratch that. Some new things are discovered but if I were to reveal them then the mystery would be given away. Please don't interpret that last sentence as an invitation for you to see the film and see for yourself.
The ending, which is a few rip-offs from other horror movies, is sloppy and not scary at all. We never fear for the characters, even if we wanted to, because the danger they face just seems lame compared to the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" trailer we see before the movie starts. Because the plot is so thin, it's easy to predict the outcome because any other way would require a much smarter screenplay.
There are little tests you can take to tell if you're really into the horror movie you're watching, simply by determining how much you care about the characters. There’s a part in the film where Cooper and Leah are running from a chasing-evil and they make it to the front door. If, when you hear Cooper tell his wife to "go upstairs and hide (alone in the dark)," and you say to yourself "go right ahead," then you're in the same boat as me.