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Southern Indiana’s West Baden Springs Hotel is the central character in this new horror flick

Deanna Dunagan and Bethany Joy Lenz on set for “So Cold the River”’ at West Baden Springs Hotel
Saban Films
Deanna Dunagan and Bethany Joy Lenz on set for “So Cold the River”’ at West Baden Springs Hotel

A movie set and filmed in Southern Indiana is now in theaters across the country.

“So Cold the River” is a horror flick based on a novel by best-selling Indiana author Michael Koryta. It follows a documentary filmmaker, played by Bethany Joy Lenz of “One Tree Hill” fame, who goes to a remote hotel for a project. There, she gets dangerously close to unearthing a family curse. 

The inspiration for Koryta’s book was the West Baden Springs Hotel, which is a part of a massive and historic resort with national landmark designation, in French Lick. 


Producer Zachary Spicer told WFPL News the West Baden Springs Hotel is a central character.

“The hotel is more than a setting, it is an energy, it is an environment and it is a totality of character… the same way that the hotel is a character in ‘The Shining,’” said Spicer, who is founder and CEO of Indiana-based Pigasus Pictures.

He explained that it’s tough to “wrap your brain around what a unique environment” the hotel is with its immense dome and expansive atrium.

“You come up over a rise, and you see what looks like a Roman Colosseum just standing in the middle of trees, in the middle of absolute nowhere, and in the valley between these rolling hills of Southern Indiana,” Spicer said of the resort’s visual spectacle. “It takes you the entire length of the drive up to the actual hotel to fully allow your brain to calibrate to what it is that you're actually experiencing.”

They began shooting in January 2020, and were on location for six weeks, Spicer said. The hotel closed to the public for three of those weeks to give the crew full access. They also filmed in the French Lick Resort’s casino and around the town of French Lick. 

Hollywood is known for its mastery of illusion, recreating the landscapes of places like Colorado in places like New Mexico in order to take advantage of film incentives, which allow production companies to recoup some of their expenses as a way to lure them to a given state. But despite Indiana not having a state film tax credit in early 2020, Spicer said they never dreamed of filming anywhere else. The foundational Indiana-ness of the film and the book it’s adapted from could only be captured by the real deal. 

The state of Indiana has since passed film tax credits. Earlier this month, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill into law that included tax incentives for film and media production in the state.

In addition to a Southern Indiana setting, “So Cold the River” also features more than 500 Hoosiers as extras. 

Spicer said that’s his “proudest achievement.”

“I think that is a testament to what it actually means to make movies in small communities like this because that's where the real magic of everything lies,” he said. 

“So Cold the River” had its theatrical release last week, and is now available to rent on several online streaming services.