Sunday 5 February 2012

Dead Creek (2008)

Director: Mike Turner
Stars: Kerrin Jeromin, Taryn Hough, Max Cook, Laura Dunn, Grace Experience Blewer and Ryan Kehoe
This film was an official selection at the 3rd Phoenix Fear Film Fest in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.
Dead Creek is one of two shorts from the 2010 Phoenix Fear Film Festival that made great use of their settings (the other was Sinkhole). Mike Turner, who directed and co-wrote (amongst many other roles), used to live near a wildlife management area really called Dead Creek, which is in Addison, Vermont. If that's the location we see in his short, then I'm not surprised in the slightest that it resonated in his mind and he went back to fabricate a horror story out of it. It's a leisurely and subtle piece that avoids cheap shock moments for the most part in favour of a slow burn of tension that's handled professionally well. Nothing much happens for the majority of the sixteen minute it runs, but we're drawn in nonetheless by a palpable aura of menace, as sisters Erin and Jess get lost in the woods and find their bearings at Dead Creek, which they recognise as the place where one of their friends died during a camping trip years earlier.

What initially grabbed me were the visuals, which are immediately engaging. I liked the colours at the beginning, red and blue becoming yellow and green as younger versions of our characters wander around the misty woods at night. When we skip forward to meet the grown up Erin and Jess, things open up in the daylight but are shot with a still photographer's eye. In fact there are a number of stills here, appropriately used, and they're all worth looking at on their own. While Kerrin Jeromin and Taryn Hough are capable leads, the swamp is omnipresent and dominates as its own character. Of course this is the whole point, but the characters brought into its grasp can easily be seen as either part or not part of it. Those that are not part of it all end up as part of it. It's a place that lives and feeds. I remember the French Quarter of New Orleans feeling that way. It's easy to see it in Dead Creek.

As capable as the visuals are, the sound captured my attention too and rewatching I believe that it's the strongest part of the film. The visuals shine predominantly through the choice of location and the framing of the camera, but that camera can be a little shaky and it isn't always where it should be. I would have liked to have seen it float low over the water a lot more and a lot longer than it does and move more organically too. Yet the sound is difficult to fault, either the quietly subtle music or the ambient sound of the swamp which provides a good deal of the score itself. As much as I enjoyed the visuals, I found that the film plays even better without any. I listened to the entire short twice with the picture off and it enthralled me, even though the voices warble a bit on occasion, presumably a technical flaw rather than one due the actresses. I say 'actresses' as the subtlety is aided by there being no recognisably male actors. It's a feminine horror story.

And the story warrants praise too, for all that there really doesn't seem to be one. As I mentioned very little actually happens for the most part. As our leading ladies walk around, there are some fleeting glimpses of things to help build the atmosphere, none of which surprise, along with an astutely handled shock moment which is all the more powerful for being the only one in the film. The twist at the end is a good one, though I don't think the very last shot was needed. However, especially with repeat viewings, I wonder how much of what goes on is real. If I put my mind to it I could perhaps put a case that Erin and Jess never got to grow up, that they died years earlier at the campsite along with Sarah and our short is them finally realising it. Maybe I'm spinning too much out of too little, but Dead Creek does feel somehow both empty and yet full of depth just below the surface. Perhaps that's just the location taking over the film.

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