Bethany Joy Lenz excels as Erica Shaw in writer/director Paul Shoulberg's eerie and engaging adaptation of Hoosier author Michael Koryta's mystery/thriller novel So Cold the River, an Indiana-made production that opened in limited theatrical release this past week in advance of its streaming release this week where it stands likely to discover the audience it so richly deserves.
If you're from Indiana, there's no mistaking the film's setting, the West Baden Springs Hotel, a Southern Indiana icon dating back to 1902 and considered by some to be one of the most haunted hotels in America. The hotel's front facade adorns the movie's poster bathed in the sort of dread that makes you think this could be yet another haunted sanatorium motion picture.
It's not, but the vibe is much the same.
So Cold the River was shot on-site in West Baden, a bit of a rarity for Indiana as a state that until only the past month was devoid of filmmaking credits and was, with the exception of the occasional low-budget flick or microcinema effort, mostly devoid of anything resembling studio filmmaking. As locally based production company Pigasus Pictures, the team behind the film, points out it's not really been since Rudy that Indiana has seen this major of a motion picture.
Here's hoping with the recently passed filmmaking credits that there's more to come in the near future.
This film capitalizes on the inherent eeriness of West Baden Springs, a rural Indiana town where the resort is actually the major employer and where you can drive for miles without encountering much humanity. Lenz's Erica is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose most recent project offered great acclaim except for the fact that the convicted killer whose innocence she "proved" ended up released from prison only to prove that he wasn't quite, well, so innocent after all.
So now, Erica is doing AV work for hire. It's a relatively nothng project putting together a slide show for a funeral that leads to the opportunity to explore the roots of a mysterious family patriarch, a small-town benefactor who as it turns out has a whole lot of secrets. Upon arrival into town, she encounters Anne (Deanna Dunagan), a sort of unofficial historian who's unquestionably familiar with our mystery man and all the stuff that comprises his potentially real and imagined legend. Of course, there will be others who pop in and out along the way including Erica's biggest fan and now intern, Kellyn (Katie Sarife), and the even more mysterious Josiah (Andrew J. West), the patriarch's only surviving relative who continues to live in the town.
So Cold the River is less horror and more mystery/thriller with supernatural threads woven throughout the film's cinematic tapestry. For example, Erica has acquired a mysterious bottle of the infamous mineral spring water, an actual part of the real hotel's history, and here reported as a family heirloom that leads to its partakers to be of a particularly unusual state of mind. This bottle of water is front-and-center throughout the film, a film that rather remarkably maximizes its modest budget with low-key yet effective special effects and an aura of darkness that practically immerses the hotel and its habitants. While a good majority of the film was shot in the actual West Baden Springs Hotel, interior hallway shots were snagged at the neighboring French Lick resort, a once competing and now sister locale that is even older and more historic than West Baden Springs.
The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, led by Lenz's performance that weaves together a hint of vulnerability with a sort of tough as nails attitude that perseveres as she fights her way for the truth. Katie Sarife shines as Kellyn, simultaneously wary yet fangirling. Dunagan's Anne gives the film a sort of old world edge as you can practically feel that she carries the weight of the town's secrets on her shoulders. As the mysterious Josiah, Andrew J. West is clearly harboring more than a few secrets but he nicely avoids becoming a one-note baddie. Strong supporting turns are made by the likes of Kevin Cahoon as Dylan and Kingston Vernes as Lucas Granger among others.
I was particularly taken by Ariel Marx's mood-setting and atmospheric original score along with the impressive lensing by Madeline Kate Kann that beautifully utilizes natural lighting and an abundance of shadows. Diana Rice's production design is simply stellar and kudos must be given to Lara de Bruijn for character-driven costume design.
While So Cold the River may not be a perfect film, it's an effective and entertaining indie mystery/thriller that immerses you in its world and holds your attention throughout the film's 95-minute running time. Writer/director Paul Shoulberg has crafted a beautiful film to be hold, an impressive realization of Koryta's literary vision and a story with quiet chills and thrills that will have you wanting to book your next vacation at the mysterious yet awe-inspiring West Baden Springs Hotel.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic