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New horror movie 'So Cold the River' inspired by West Baden Springs Hotel

Movie based on book by Bloomington native Michael Koryta
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Posted at 1:54 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 18:58:18-04

FRENCH LICK — Michael Koryta’s 2010 horror novel inspired by French Lick Resort and West Baden Springs Hotel is now a major motion picture.

Premiering in select theaters on Friday, "So Cold the River" stars Bethany Joy Lenz of One Tree Hill, Alysia Reiner from Orange Is the New Black, and The Walking Dead's Andrew J. West.

It's the highest-scale movie made in Indiana since "The Good Catholic" in 2016, according to a release for the movie. The Good Catholic was shot and produced in Bloomington, where production company Pigasus Pictures is based, in collaboration with screenwriter and director Paul Shoulberg.

The movie poster for "So Cold The River" features its lead actor Bethany Joy Lenz.

Pigasus and Shoulberg teamed up again in 2020, pre-pandemic, to make So Cold The River.

"My dream had always been to see something actually shot on location at that hotel because I didn't see how the story could be done justice without the hotel, as I said, as a character," Koryta, a Bloomington native and Indiana University alum, said.

The movie came to fruition after Koryta tossed the idea of filming on location at West Baden to Pete Yonkman, the president of Cook Group, the parent company of French Lick Resort. The two connected with Pigasus, who they admired for their work with “Ms. White Light" and "The Miseducation of Bindu" here in central Indiana.

"We all kind of got together and talked about it. It seemed like a really wild idea at first, and then I had a chance to talk to Paul (Shoulberg) and read his script," Koryta explained. "Between Paul's work and the Cook Group being willing to back the film, it came together."

Bethany Joy Lenz on the set of "So Cold the River" at West Baden Springs Hotel in Orange County, Indiana on February 2, 2020.

The supernatural mystery follows a filmmaker as she researches a dying millionaire while staying in a resort with a dark past, and an antique bottle filled with water from a local spring in tow.

The entire film was shot in the location of Koryta's inspiration, the West Baden Springs Hotel, and its surrounding area.

Past visitors will recognize the hotel's atrium, Room 4626, and the prominent hotel entrance starting with the bigger-than-life archway followed by an illuminatingly long stretch of street lights.

The archway of West Baden Springs Hotel.

Building a story with French Lick and West Baden as the backdrop is a narrative Koryta has thought about since he was 8.

"Usually setting is the backdrop. And, for me, the West Baden Springs Hotel and that area around the Lost River was not just a backdrop; it was a character," Koryta said.

When he was a boy, Koryta knew the hotel as a place of "ruin." As he grew up, he watched the historic landmark's renewal closely.

"It is such a surreal and beautiful and mysterious and — I would argue — fundamentally creepy place. But it just seemed to beg for a story, particularly a ghost story," Koryta said.

So Cold the River is the second novel the New York Times bestselling author has had turned into a star-studded major motion picture. Starring Angelina Jolie, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" was shot in New Mexico while in the hands of California-based New Line Cinema.

Koryta enjoyed that this go-around with movie production he could follow along a bit more closely with how a 500-page book can be turned into a 90-minute film. As a screenwriter, Koryta took this time as an educational opportunity to learn from Shoulberg.

"I was able to experience a lot more of it and feel more personally involved, and also have the stark realization that I was not the right person to adapt this one," Koryta explained.

West Baden Springs Hotel
The West Baden Springs Hotel
The atrium of West Baden Springs Hotel.

Although a million people pass through the Orange County towns of French Lick and West Baden yearly, Koryta hopes more people come through the area after watching the film.

Whether you read the book or watch the film (or both), Koryta hopes viewers and readers alike enjoy the story.

And although hundreds of thousands of people travel down to French Lick and West Baden yearly, Koryta's biggest hope is So Cold the River stirs up a desire in more people to see the enchanting hotel.

"That has always been one of the dreams to me, and telling the story was to capture this incredible and odd and surreal place and tell its story, and then hopefully bring people in to see it," Koryta said.

And to take it a step further, the horror writer hopes those inspired to stay at West Baden Springs "have a sleepless night, maybe a few nightmares."

So Cold the River will be showing at Glendale 12 in Indianapolis, Springs Stadium 4 in French Lick, Tivolo Theater in Spencer, Mary Max Cinemas in Logansport, and The Indiana Theater in Washington. It goes on-demand on March 29.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.