So Cold the River, 2022.
Written and Directed by Paul Shoulberg.
Starring Bethany Joy Lenz, Alysia Reiner, Katie Sarife, Andrew J. West, Deanna Dunagan, Aaron Roman Weiner, and Kevin Cahoon.
A documentary filmmaker’s research on a town’s mysterious benefactor unearths an unexplained evil while staying at a local resort.
Fortunately, for the duration of its running time, So Cold the River is anything but cold. At the center, there is some heated drama, appealing production design (apparently, it’s one of the most expensive movies ever made in the state of Indiana), and some intrigue involving mysteriously supernatural water that feels directly taken from Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, since both movies also deal with eerie remote locations steeped in questions and gothic horror. It’s also interesting to note that writer and director Paul Shoulberg is adopting a novel of the same name by Michael Koryta (who also wrote Those Who Wish Me Dead, adapted into an Angelina Jolie vehicle last year), writing this book six years before that movie came out. Although realistically, the concept of magical water is not exactly a new one.
However, it’s carried with splendid craftsmanship, whether it be the design of the water vial itself that partially encourages our protagonist into this creepy town, the massive and sprawling circular hotel that feels like a world unto itself, or sinister lighting. There’s always a sense of fascinating history here, both upbeat and twisted.
Unfortunately, that same level of careful world-building is not necessarily brought over to the characters or larger story, which is sometimes exciting and other times cliché. It also doesn’t help that when the story is seemingly building to a climax, it fizzles out and abruptly ends confusingly and in an anticlimactic fashion.
Centering on a renowned fictional documentary filmmaker celebrated for authentically bleak portraits of human life, Erica Shaw (Bethany Joy Lenz) has given up that career following a dark turn from one of her previous subjects. More specifically, she saw darkness in the person while making the film, only to not say anything about it, rendering her with a heap of present-day guilt. She changes her mind when Alyssa Bradford-Cohen (Alysia Reiner) plunks down an absurd amount of money to profile her dying billionaire father. He has a connection with his remote hometown and unfinished evil business.
Upon Erica’s arrival, the mood is sufficiently unnerving with characters that walk away from the conversation at the mere mention of the wealthy man. Erica also comes into contact with the great-grandson of this man (Andrew J. West), who has been unable to find a future beyond the town, now working a low-level job inside the hotel. This is also where So Cold the River stumbles into some cringe territory, as Erica tries seducing the man (presumably to lower his guard and uncover more information) in a cheaply written way that doesn’t feel empowering to the character. If anything, her journalistic integrity is repeatedly called into question as one of her fans and assistants (Katie Sarife) looks on in repulsion, witnessing some of her manipulative behavior. At one point, the phrase “never meet your heroes” is said.
All the while, characters are drinking from the special bottle of water, submerging themselves in fancy indoor swimming pools, and generally lapping up its unique qualities. Some characters also begin to have hallucinations of the past, which are primarily generic but sometimes framed in unsettling ways. These visions provide insight into the town’s history, but So Cold the River still doesn’t evolve beyond atmospheric. Its tale of disgraced filmmaking colliding with billionaire sins in the name of the supernatural never coalesces into something worthwhile or something that makes total sense. I would believe you if you told me the filmmakers ran out of money before finishing the climax.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com