So Cold the River (2022) is Lukewarm True Crime Horror
Title: So Cold the River
First Non-Festival Release: March 25, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Paul Shoulberg
Writer: Paul Shoulberg
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Starring: Bethany Joy Lenz, Alysia Reiner, Katie Sarife
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Retired documentary filmmaker turned funeral PowerPoint editor, Erica Shaw (Bethany Joy Lenz) is approached by a mysterious woman (Alysia Reiner) to make a personal video for her regarding her dying father Campbell Bradford (Michael J Rogers). After much convincing, Erica agrees and heads to their hometown with an intern (Katie Sarife) and an unassuming bottle of water in tow. While interviewing the locals, Erica finds that there is much more to Campbell Bradford’s life and the dark legacy he left behind.
Psychic true crime horror So Cold the River juggles too many ideas to make sense of its meandering plot.
True crime horror So Cold the River makes a small splash with its oddly trippy plot. Taking a roundabout way to get its plot going, the film prioritizes the ambiguous with its first few scenes. Why and how is Erica chosen to make a character profile for this random man? What is so important about a bottle of water from a small town in the middle of nowhere? How is it possible for Erica to have a conversation with an unresponsive body? These questions and more allow the mystery of the story to permeate through the screen.
The real problem is when the film finally makes it to the town to investigate. The sequence of events that follows is strange to say the least. Erica’s investigative work allows her to move from townsperson to townsperson in an effort to learn more about the mystery behind Campbell Bradford. As the web unfurls, however, the story gets trapped in its own inconsistencies. The implications of something far more terrifying exist in So Cold the River, but the creative team doesn’t seem interested in parsing them out, instead choosing to bait and switch the audience. From there, more twists are piled on until the rather silly ending made worse by a lack of character development for its leads.
Its characterization of its leading players betrays their development, or place in the story altogether. Erica is built up to be this professional scorned by regret of ethical choices made in the past. Her mistakes follow her until she is given the opportunity to uncover something great. Not only would this be a good career move for her but she would be delivering exactly what she needs to for her client. Her growth fluctuates throughout the film as she is confronted with the reality of this assignment. In the end, her decision making doesn’t quite make sense for the path the writers originally set her up for. Similar inconsistencies arise for more secondary characters who truly get little development beyond a few scenes, and ultimately serve as nothing more than plot devices.
The grandiose setting and mesmerizing imagery bolster what would otherwise be a pretty tepid psychological horror. Its indoor hotel setting is perhaps the coolest aspect of this little indie film. Helping it stand out from similar supernatural thriller-esque mysteries, this setting allows for the unsettling nature of the story to set in naturally. Additionally, there are some pretty bold visuals that help solidify the tension in the film. Using the setting to its advantage, the team behind So Cold the River maximizes its horror potential through subtle scares, like one involving a hospital camcorder session.
Supernatural horror with adequate twists amount to a mediocre payoff in indie So Cold the River. Its interesting premise and commitment to bold visuals allow the film to overcome its lukewarm plot. Once it gets into the weeds of its supernatural origins and evil characters it does begin to lose its steam. So Cold the River focuses on delivering a tale that is impossible to forget that it neglects to coherently tell a story worth caring for and captivating its audience. Its commitment to shock fails even further due to the tameness of the story. There are far worse horror mystery films out there, but regardless take caution taking a dip in So Cold the River.
Overall Score? 5.5/10