So Cold The River Stars West Baden Springs Hotel

So Cold the River movie poster art features the West Baden Springs Hotel
Photos courtesy Dittoe PR

SOME LOCATIONS can be recreated for the movies. Funky Bones, the Newfields sculpture central to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, was copied in Pittsburgh when Indy’s then-lack of incentives for movie-making proved inhospitable to that film’s budget crunchers. 

But there was no way the producers of So Cold the River, the Indiana-centric film being released theatrically on March 25 and based on Michael Koryta’s novel, were going to try to recreate that story’s core location elsewhere. After all, where else would you find anything like the West Baden Springs Hotel, the 243-room Southern Indiana wonder with its 200-foot atrium, massive dome, and National Historic Landmark status?

“We literally shut down the hotel for six weeks and even shut down the casino for a day,” says Zachary Spicer, CEO of Bloomington-based Pigasus Pictures, producer of the film. “I don’t want to think about how much that cost them.” 

Shooting on location in French Lick helped make So Cold the River possibly the largest-scale film production the state has seen since Rudy strapped on shoulder pads. While Spicer wouldn’t state a budget, he said the film cost significantly less than most Hollywood films but more than the most recent Indiana-shot film to get national attention, 2017’s $700,000 arthouse film Columbus.

Deanna Dunagan and Bethany Joy Lenz at a West Baden Springs Hotel Bar in So Cold the River

The supernatural thriller features Bethany Joy Lenz (best known from TV’s One Tree Hill) and Deanna Dunagan (Tony winner for August: Osage County). It concerns a documentary filmmaker with a troubled past who stumbles on a family curse while ensconced at the Southern Indiana resort for research. It turns out the water isn’t only cold, it’s downright dangerous. 

When discussions began about adapting Koryta’s book for the screen, changes had to be made. The lead character even underwent a gender switch. But there was no question that it had to be shot primarily at the hotel in spite of its out-of-the-way location. Which could have been a deal-breaker for other production companies.

“That might have been an obstacle if you’re not from Indiana,” says Spicer. With a creative team filled with IU alumni, “we didn’t face the challenge of having to go to an unknown place. It can seem daunting. But if you work within a community, it’s not daunting at all. It becomes a grassroots endeavor.” And deals could be made—including having the cast and crew take up residence in more than 60 rooms at the hotel for the duration of the complicated shoot, which wrapped up just a week before the quarantines hit in early 2020. 

Was the real West Baden Springs Hotel management concerned about being associated with a cinematic horrorshow? After all, bloody bodies aren’t usually a selling point.

“There was initial concern about what this was going to be,” says Spicer. “But look at the hotel in The Shining. That sells out year-round, and that movie came out more than 40 years ago.”

So Cold the River will be released in select theaters nationwide. Participating Indianapolis theaters include Living Room Theaters and Landmark’s Glendale 12 Theatre. It will be released On Demand and digitally on March 29.

View the trailer below: