SO COLD THE RIVER key art | ©2022 Saban Films

SO COLD THE RIVER key art | ©2022 Saban Films

Rating: R
Stars: Bethany Joy Lenz, Katie Sarife, Andrew J. West, Michael J. Rogers, Alycia Reiner, Deanna Dunagan, Kevin Cahoon, Kingston Vernes
Writer: Paul Shoulberg, based on the novel by Michael Koryta
Director: Paul Shoulberg
Distributor: Saban Films
Release Date: March 29, 2022

SO COLD THE RIVER is a pleasingly atmospheric horror film that keeps us guessing. What should we fear most here? The unusually-structured hotel where much of the action takes place? The small town where the hotel is located? Or the town’s most famous son, Campbell Bradford?

Directed and written by Paul Shoulberg, SO COLD THE RIVER actually makes us want to read the Michael Koryta novel that serves as its basis.

We begin with a car crash that kills the driver and decimates the vehicle. The only object left strangely untouched is a bottle of Pluto water.

Still-young Erica Shaw (Bethany Joy Lenz) is a formerly acclaimed documentary filmmaker – we’ll find out in due course what led her to quit the profession – who these days gets by on doing wedding videos and similar gigs. Erica is hired to do a memorial video for the funeral of the driver by the late woman’s sister, Alyssa Bradford-Cohen (Alycia Reiner).

Alyssa turns out to know not only about Erica’s background, but about the filmmaker’s “gift.” Erica is sometimes able to sense the truth behind photographs. Alyssa wants Erica to do a documentary about her dying father, Campbell Bradford, currently laying on his deathbed.

Erica resists, but Alyssa’s money is persuasive, and something very odd happens when Erica goes to talk to Campbell. Finally, Erica agrees to go to West Baden, Indiana, where Alyssa believes her father is hailed as a local hero.

When Erica arrives in West Baden, everyone is all atwitter about the town’s upcoming Rebirth Festival. Erica also checks into the town’s extraordinarily-constructed hotel.

Here, Erica meets chatty older local Anne McKinney (Deanna Dunagan), who talks about how a river runs all the way under West Baden, and how train tracks used to be the only way in or out of town. Now just anyone can come here.

But Anne shuts right up when Campbell Bradford is mentioned. Then there’s hotel employee Josiah Bradford (Andrew J. West), who also has less than fond words for his great-grandfather. Additionally, Erica finds that her new intern, Kellyn (Katie Sarife), is perhaps overly knowledgeable about Erica’s past work.

SO COLD THE RIVER has crisscrossing narrative trails every which way, with clues that lead us to suspect all sorts of things.

There is a real West Baden, Indiana, which was used – along with the stunning West Baden Hotel and the neighboring town of French Lick – for primary filming locations. Shoulberg gets the most out of the place, creating ominous moods everywhere he points the camera.

Admirably, Shoulberg even pulls off that trickiest of tasks, playing with our sympathies, so that we question what we think we know about each character, without losing interest or writing anyone off.

Lenz and Sarife give performances of matched intensity and commitment. West brings out the details in Josiah, and Dunagan is shrewd as the local history maven.

There are aspects of SO COLD THE RIVER that are may be a little too vague for some tastes, and there are some elements that could have withstood a bit more attention. Even so, it’s a fun exercise in the cursed-something horror subgenre.

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