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So Cold The River


‘…intrigue gives way to annoyance when So Cold the River fails to provide cut and dried answers, but it’s a journey worth taking in this striking and yet somehow incomplete film…’

Fancy a room for the night? There’s something about hotels that makes them the perfect subject for a supernatural thriller. Far larger than any home should be, their vast impersonal corridors reveal that each occupant is just one of many, a feeling of unease we get from Room 237 in The Shining. Everything is convenient, the décor is familiar and welcoming, there’s no obvious threat, but there’s also a sense that many, many others have passed this way before…

Based on a 2010 novel by Michael Koyata, writer/director Paul Shoulberg’s chilly film is probably best illustrated not with a picture of its cast, but with the real star, the hotel at the centre of a mystery. The West Baden Springs Hotel is situated in French Link, Indiana, a sparsely populated town that is home to this huge, photogenic atrium. Although some of the indoor scenes were shot elsewhere, the hotel’s exterior and interiors dominate this film, a beautiful and yet surreal setting for a story that never quite shows its hand to the audience.

Erica (Bethany Joy Lenz) is a documentary film-maker with regrets; she previously made a movie which proved the innocence of an incarcerated male, who, on release, murdered his own family. Suitably chastened, Erica takes a job to make a film for the daughter of reclusive billionaire Campbell Bradford (Michael J Rogers), who seems to have some secrets to uncover. Erica heads to the resort where Bradford came from, but her investigation uncovers more that she bargains for…

Something similar to spa horror A Cure for Wellness, So Cold The River is a slippery, elusive film that has a unique burnished look, and is well performed by the cast. Yet it somehow doesn’t quite land, despite careful work, because it constantly seems to be alluding to events that are never quite clarified. Critics like myself are always complaining about things being spelled out too clearly, but are the first to complain when film-makers don’t fully explain themselves. Why has Erica been hired? Is Bradford’s daughter actually a witch? What’s up with the strange people that Erica meets at the hotel? What’s in the bottle that Erica carries around with her? Intrigue gives way to annoyance when So Cold the River fails to provide cut and dried answers, but it’s a journey worth taking in this striking and yet somehow incomplete film…

Thanks to Blue Finch Films for access.

So Cold The River is available on digital download 5 September



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  1. Intriguing but I’m not sure I’m that interested in a movie that ponies up plenty questions but provides no answers unless we’re talking Alain Resnais or Antonioni. Are we?

  2. Hadn’t heard of this before. Watched the trailer – it’s got a little atmosphere working for it. I’m a Bethany Joy Lenz fan. Still, I do get the feeling from your review this is one that would just frustrate me and leave me shaking my head. Since I already have other things in my life that do that, I’ll probably pass on this one…and renaming it So Cold The Hotel won’t make me change my mind.

    • She’s good in this, and the hotel and atmosphere are amazing. But I hate to admit as a critic that I didn’t get something and this left me scratching my head…

  3. I’m with fraggle – nope on the horror. I always think of hotels as having a sort of good magic in them – all the lives that went before might infuse me with luck and inspiration. I don’t want to think of them as haunting me!

    • Oh yes, love to write in a hotel room; no distractions! I dig a good horror, but like to dram a firm line between what happens in horror films and what happens to me! Have been to a few crackers in North Carolina, huge hotels with fireplaces you could drive a big rig through, and of course hotels are where most interviews happen, so there’s lots of magic memories too. Happy to keep the scary scenes on the screen, and out of my life!

  4. So how cold is the river? As cold as the Clyde in February?

    From the author of Those Who Wish Me Dead. Well, that’s a come on.

    Does the Rock lick his balls in this one?

    • I have zapcat raced in the Clyde, and I can tell you, it’s cold all the year round.

      Oh yeah, that was that Angelina Jolie fire-fighting movie? Didn’t turn out too well if I remember…

      No dogs in this one, sorry. Did you smell what he was cooking?

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