Directed by: #DonSwanson
Written by: Don Swanson
A feature-length continuation his 2019 short film Occurrence at Mills Creek with a returning cast and crew, Don Swanson, unfortunately, displays how bigger doesn’t always equal better. Dull and lacking urgency throughout, this story of a young woman’s grief after a series of family tragedies manifesting itself through supernatural visions around a family curse is a toothless psychological horror. With these tough themes such as death, depression and attempted suicide at the forefront of Clara’s narrative, the majority of the film feels disconnected from any potential impactful drama. Sleepwalking its way through every element, Swanson’s vision doesn’t offer audiences much in terms of intrigue or entertainment.
The few moments where Occurrence at Mills Creek can capture attention is when the music does the storytelling. With an original score from Mark D’Errico and songs by Mia Z, these brief sequences where Clara’s emotional journey takes on a new perspective; her isolation, her vulnerability breaks through from the tedium of the dialogue. Walking down the aisle at her sister’s funeral, being watched and judged or reconnecting with the spirit of her mother while at a night club actually creates engaging visual storytelling. These scenes however also show how glaring the muddled presentation of the characters, storylines and themes are, and how much of the plotline feels unnecessarily convoluted. The family curse and horror elements of the film are shoehorned in, barely developed and it turns the whole film into a nonsensical mirage that you lose all interest with, taking away any reality to these character’s drama. Tired clichés and cheap gimmicks in place of anything substantial leave Occurrence at Mills Creek’s characters and the story pretty forgettable to the audience.
What isn’t forgettable however is the atrocious sound design; the sound mix for the dialogue is full of echo, background noise, it’s scratchy and noticeably distracting in just about every scene. The sequences with the professionally recorded music are presented fine but nearly every scene with dialogue suffers from this. This failure never sorts itself out, with a lot of the final product feeling like it went through many desperate attempts to ‘fix it in post’ to no avail, becoming a constant grate on the audience’s senses. Occurrence at Mills Creek doesn’t fail because of its low budget or bad script, it's all subjective and opinions continuously change over time but a bad sound mix breaks that tether with the audience. You cannot become invested in this film’s reality when the film is constantly breaking it.
Swanson wears many caps in this production as director, writer, cinematographer, editor among others and unfortunately does not succeed with most of them. Noticeable faults in the practical execution along with the narrative and performances have the film in shambles, nothing for the audience to latch onto and empathises with. Occurrence at Mills Creek mangles its drama of grief and surviving for tacky horror, baffling exposition and lifeless pacing, nothing but an unsatisfactory story let down even more by its poorer execution.