Things are not always as they seem—undeniably a popular trope in the horror/thriller genre. The fun is found in unraveling the mystery of a story and discovering the truth behind the lies. In Don Swanson’s short film, Occurrence at Mills Creek, Clara (Ava Psoras) is joined by her father, Victor (Joe Fishel), for her sister Cassandra’s (Alexa Mechling) funeral. But the circumstances behind Cassandra’s death are unclear and Clara appears to be unemotional or still in a state of shock.
Throughout the day of the funeral, Clara is haunted not only by the ghosts of her sister and her deceased mother Emily (Betsy Lynn George), but she equally haunted by the flashbacks of her mother’s passing from some disease (probably cancer), and the events leading up to Cassandra’s death at Mills Creek.
“…the circumstances behind Cassandra’s death are unclear…”
Occurrence at Mills Creek is a pretty standard story about death, grief, and murder, and told in an intriguing way. It’s a solid short story, not groundbreaking but for the most part without flaws or plot holes. The acting is a little rough, but that’s one of the reasons we make short films—to give up-and-coming actors a chance to hone their craft.
Where the film falls short is in its horror/suspense elements. It misses opportunities to manipulate its audiences and provide real scares. For example, when the ghosts of Emily and Cassandra appear in the church, they just appear looking creepy and decomposed. That’s not enough. This is a chance to use sound effects and shot composition to make the ghosts scarier than they are.
Filmmakers need to ask the question, what kind of reaction do they want their audiences to have? Should they be scared? How scared? What level? When you understand the result you want, then build these scene and moments to elicit that response. Use jump scares or play with lighting. But use the medium of film to make us feel something. This is the best part of creating horror—scaring the hell out of your audience and knowing you did it.
Occurrence at Mills Creek (2019) Written and directed by Don Swanson. Starring Betsy Lynn George, Ava Psoras, Alexa Mechling, Joe Fishel.
6 out of 10 stars
"…"...story about death, grief, and murder, and told in an intriguing way.""