Occurrence at Mills Creek (2019) short film review

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Occurrence at Mills Creek is a psychological horror designed to be the opening act of a full-length feature film due out next year that follows Clara, a young woman burdened by guilt following the deaths of her mother and sister.

As she suffers from the same strange occurrences that have plagued her family for generations Clara’s sanity begins to unravel and her reality starts to erode. Here we take a look at Writer-director Don Swanson’s supernatural short film.

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From the opening female-led music and monologue to the mysterious deaths and jump cuts about past events, to the strong female leads there is something extremely familiar about ‘Occurrence at Mills Creek’. Now I must add this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not in the slightest, especially when you consider that the familiarity I noticed actually comes from the films of David Lynch.

Occurrence’ wears its Lynchian hat high on its head and just about manages to pull off its homages… Just about, but there are a few things wrong with this short.

At its heart ‘Occurrence’ is pure Lynch, it’s a supernatural mystery wrapped up in a film noir but like a lot of Lynch’s work it can be a bit too complex, it tries too hard and adds too much of everything. There are a number of Lynch references throughout the short whether they were intentional or not I can’t be sure but it is something I would love to ask the director.

I clearly noticed references to Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and Fire Walk With Me, While less obvious but still, there were hints of Lost Highway and Wild At Heart. Altogether, in an almost 20-minute film with so much going on, it sometimes became a bit overwhelming, and somewhat difficult to follow.

I can easily explain that criticism away though by pointing to the director’s notes where he explains that this short film is a precursor to the full-length feature version which is due out next year. It is understandable that in order to get your point across and show people what you can do you would want to cram all of your ideas into a film.

Unfortunately, when you have just twenty minutes, there simply isn’t enough time to get to know all of the key characters, so the all-important symbolic scenes and flashbacks that reveal so much about them are simply not as effective. They look and feel awkward and often create more confusion rather than bringing clarity.OAMC poster 200x300 Occurrence at Mills Creek (2019) short film review

However, once I stop comparing it to an artistic genius like David Lynch, ‘Occurrence at Mills Creek’ has a lot of good things going for it. For starters, Ava Psoras as Clara, in what I believe is her first lead role, is excellent. Her controlled manner and line delivery are crucial to keeping the mystery alive and audience in suspense and she is very strong; she reminded me a lot in looks and performance of Christina Ricci and she has a great future.

Meanwhile, writer/director Don Swanson has a lot of style and talent, I liked what I saw even though it was a little cold. The film kept my interest but it felt like a directors idea book in which isolated scenes are jotted down for future use instead of blending them into a finished product. It sometimes felt like Swanson had simply filmed his synopsis, but considering this short is a taster for things to come, that is more understandable. Swanson’s cinematography was also very good, he has great eye for eeriness and solitude with some fine visuals occurring amongst the snow. The images are effective. The score by Mark D’Errico is strong and disturbing which helps to create the mood.

At the end what are we left with? An interesting short about mystery, horror, and deception that is a bit too full. We have had a taste but we need to take some smaller bites first, the director has an idea, a purpose, and an overview. Now its time for him to spread the tasty story he has developed on to his own large original canvas. We can’t wait to see where it goes.

3.5 / 5 stars     

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