Cooper Tilson toils as a documentary filmmaker in New York City. His wife, Leah, is a business executive who rises at 4:30 to hop a plane to her next big meeting. Their two children attend private school. It’s a hustle-bustle life, the pressures of which reach a crescendo when a near-miss in heavy traffic endangers one of the children. So they chuck it all. The noise. The pollution. The rat race in general. Wanting to simplify their lives, the Tilsons decide to buy a recently repossessed mansion out in the country. It’s a real fixer-upper ... with a dark past.
One day the former owner shows up and makes himself at home. Dale Massie is a scruffy, yet muscular ex-con who claims he has no hard feelings about losing his house to these city slickers. He’s just looking to get back on his feet. So he convinces the Tilsons to hire him as a handyman. Once Dale enters the picture—and notices Cooper working on a documentary about the history of his new home—strange things start to happen. Cooper is convinced that Dale is responsible, acting out of spite. So he fires him. This only makes things worse, though the Tilsons can’t provide the local sheriff with enough hard evidence to prove anything. Meanwhile, the more Cooper digs into the history of Cold Creek Manor, the more frightened he becomes for his family’s safety.
The Tilsons are a loving family that must work through normal conflicts, as well as unite to overcome extraordinary ones. Cooper and Leah want nothing more than to be good parents (she reminds him, “We promised we would never put the kids at risk”).
The couple who own the local diner extend a warm welcome to their new neighbors. When the house becomes infested with poisonous snakes, Dale and others come to the rescue (it’s implied, however, that Dale may have planted the serpents to begin with). Leah wants to give Dale the benefit of the doubt when suspicions about him arise, and later apologizes to her husband for doubting his instincts. When it looks as if he has done a terrible thing, Cooper appeals to his daughter to trust in his innocence, which she does. As the stakes rise, Cooper insists that the rest of the family return to the city for their own safety.
Sheriff Ferguson is dedicated to keeping the peace, and becomes a refuge for the Tilsons when Dale turns the rest of the town against them. When Leah gets thrown into a deep hole, Cooper ignores his own safety and is single-minded about pulling her out. The couple team up in a climactic struggle to defend their home.
When Cooper gets spooked by a snake, Dale says, “You can’t be scared of all God’s creatures.”
Dale shows up at the trailer of his trashy girlfriend, Ruby, and begins undressing her. The two are overheard having raucous sex, a loveless act barely obscured by a set of blinds. Additionally, Dale is a leering pervert. He has Polaroids of his topless, pubescent stepdaughter (glimpsed several times by moviegoers). He gazes lustfully at Leah. Leah is shown in her underwear.
A bumper sticker in the sheriff’s office reads, “Feel safe tonight. Sleep with a cop.” [Spoiler Warning] Early on, Leah is propositioned by a business colleague to spend the night together. We assume she rejected the proposal, but learn later that she had actually considered it until circumstances got in the way. Old Mr. Massie prattles on about his late wife’s promiscuity and calls Dale “the corrupt spawn of your whoring mother.” Dale says his own wife had an active social life as well.
A babbling old man threatens to whip his son bloody. In one scene, a person’s bludgeoned body twitches in a pool of blood (viewers are spared the homicidal act itself). Dale slaps Ruby violently, then punches men who come to her aid before Sheriff Ferguson draws her pistol. He also suffocates his bedridden father.
People describe a brutal method of killing sheep by using modified tools to inflict a sharp blow to the base of the skull that penetrates the brain. Dale is suspected of having murdered his own family in similar fashion. [Spoiler Warning] We eventually see physical evidence of this crime in the form of decomposed bodies that had been thrown into a deep well called The Devil’s Throat.
Cooper decapitates a snake. He hits a deer with his car. A horse is killed and dumped in the family swimming pool. Cooper accidentally punches his wife in the face. An intruder terrorizes the Tilsons, chasing them through their blacked-out home, wielding a “killing hammer” (“I’m gonna bash your skulls in and throw you down The Devil’s Throat”). The assailant falls several stories to his death.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cooper’s quick trip to the corner store turns into an unscheduled drinking binge at the adjacent bar. He and other characters consume beer, vodka and whiskey to excess. There are implied consequences to drunkenness when Cooper hits something with his car and his family doubts his ability to recall exactly what happened. Several people smoke cigarettes. Dale puffs away in nearly every scene.
Belonging to the same genre as Pacific Heights, Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, this methodical, occasionally eerie thriller taps into our innate desire to protect family and home from a psychotic outsider with an axe (in this case, “killing hammer”) to grind. It’s great to see an average husband and wife—with a little help from the kids—teaming up to thwart a home-wrecker. I only wish this film had chosen a course similar to The River Wild, the PG-13 white-water rafting thriller that found Meryl Streep and David Strathairn desperately trying to save their family from a vicious Kevin Bacon. That movie isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it throttled back where Cold Creek Manor goes overboard.
Frequent obscenities (plus tween nudity and a loud, barely obscured sex scene) earn Manor its R rating and make it impossible to recommend. That’s a shame because the Tilson family’s priorities, character and interactions are pretty positive. Also, the cast is solid. I was especially impressed with relative newcomer Dana Eskelson as the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails sheriff who gives the Tilsons someone to turn to amidst chaos. Eskelson’s résumé may not be as extensive as those of her co-stars, but that’s sure to change. I’m eager to see what she does next. I just hope it’s the kind of movie families will actually be able to watch.