The concept of generational horror, of trauma that is passed down from parent to child and further, is not a new concept in the realm of the genre. Every great American horror author, be it Poe, Lovecraft, or King, has written extensively on how the sins of the parents (or grandparents) can be paid for by their descendants. More recently, Mike Flanagan has created some truly magnificent film and television that is deeply rooted in the concept. Rarely, however, do such works approach the subject the way Jamie Hooper does with his film The Creeping. Instead of a traditional ghost story, Hooper weaves a tale of family secrets being just as frightening as any ghost. In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the explicit introduction of the supernatural weakens this film.
The Creeping is the story of Anna, a young woman who returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing grandmother Lucy, who is suffering from what appears to be dementia. It’s made clear early on Anna isn’t exactly fond of the house, and events begin to unfold that make it clear why she is so uncomfortable there. Eventually, it is revealed that Anna’s grandfather, Lucy’s husband, apparently died by suicide after Anna’s mother died giving birth to her. The strange dynamics in that scenario make for a complicated relationship. Lucy is, in her more lucid moments, never anything less than absolutely adoring of her granddaughter. She speaks fondly of her late son-in-law as well. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there is something in the house that is not quite as keen on Anna as her grandmother, and from there we are treated to a story of skeletons in the closet and sordid family secrets swept under the proverbial rug.
The film’s strongest asset is the emotional core that is established between Anna and her grandmother, as well as her nurse and longtime friend Karen. There is an endearing chemistry between the three of them and Riann Steele excels at giving Anna a childlike affection for her grandmother than any adult with living grandparents who they’re fond of will instantly connect with. Similarly, there is something genuinely touching about Lucy speaking of her late son-in-law, who she described as a beautiful man who danced with her at his wedding and was always sure to visit her. Jane Lowe, the actor who portrays Lucy, is adept at switching back and forth between a confused and delirious version of the character to a lucid and clearheaded albeit melancholy version. Much in the same way Lucy speaking of Anna’s dad strikes a chord, Karen’s recollections of Anna’s mom, as well as her fondness of Lucy, hits similarly. There is a believable love between the actors, and this cuts the more horrific aspects of the film the way a good vinegar will cut a fatty dish to mellow the flavor.
Speaking of the horrific elements in this film, for much of it Hooper takes a less is more approach. It is by and large a classic haunted house film. That is not a put down: it excels at telling this timeless story. The jump scares are well earned, tempered with long leering shots of darkened hallways and shadowy rooms, forcing the viewer to constantly look around to see if some horrific spector is lurking in the corner. The horror imagery is again nothing groundbreaking but still effective. The CGI for the ghost at the end leave something to be desired, but the design is creepy enough that it’s easy to look past the subpar visual effects.
The films source of horror is quite clever. Instead of just relying on melancholy spectors scaring the bejesus out of us, Hooper adds an element of family drama (this might be belittling the actual situation in the film a bit, but it’s the best way to describe it) that on its own is enough to make for an unsettling film. Indeed, I almost wish there was no supernatural elements whatsoever and the film was instead a story of a woman in the grips of dementia coming to terms with her own haunted past while her granddaughter is caught up in the web of family secrets. So, while the film sets itself up as a classic haunted house story and it remains largely such a story, theirs is a sordid backstory that is horrific (and realistic) enough to get under the skin of most viewers even without the use of spooky spectors haunting an old cottage.
Trauma rearing its ugly head is an unfortunately effective source of horror, and Jamie Hooper does a fantastic job of wielding it in a simple but unsettling way. The Creeping is a film that doesn’t quite pull the rug out from under you at any point but does just enough shifting of the pieces on the board to change the story from how you think it’s going to play out into something even more upsetting. It’s a richly layered film in what it reveals of Anna’s past, revealing new and upsetting things that have impacted her current situation. It’s quite scary, and not just because it’s all too relatable for far too many people, but it also has a quietly sad undercurrent that is also relatable, in that it plays upon that unspoken fear that sometimes we don’t know the people we love (and who in turn love us) nearly as well as we’d like to think we do.
The Creeping is a timeless story in that it’s a classic haunted house/ghost story, and in that it’s rooted in something tragically common: unaddressed shared trauma amongst family members and the passing down of that trauma to new generations. It’s a tasteful but terrifying film, restrained but utterly eerie, and will undeniably stay in your head for days after you’re done watching it.