The Creeping had its European première at FrightFest 2022
Jamie Hooper’s feature debut The Creeping opens in the Sixties, with young Anna (Taliyah Blair) being told – at her own request – a ‘scary story’ for bedtime by her loving father Harry (Jonathan Nyati). Much as the story concerns a creaking, creeping, heavy-breathing tickle monster that crawls under the little girl’s sheets at night, Anna is woken later that evening, at precisely 3.23am, by a creaking sound, and it is unclear whether the terrifying paranormal activity that she then witnesses in the kitchen and back in her bedroom is a nightmare inspired by her father’s story, or a genuine incursion of the supernatural.
Cut to 1985, some two decades later, and the now adult Anna (Riann Steele), still in mourning from her father’s death, is now returning to that Somerset cottage to look after her demented grandmother Lucy Blakeley (Jane Lowe), with help from kindly local Karen (Sophie Thompson). If Lucy at times seems barely present, the house, though full of memories (pictures, diaries, toys), is marked by other absences too. For Lucy’s daughter Maggie died giving birth to Anna, Lucy’s husband William (Peter MacQueen) passed away not long after, and Anna is still grieving the much more recent death of Harry. Now Lucy is the only family that Anna has left – although every night, at 3.23, something else is forcefully making its presence felt, and the increasingly alarmed Anna suspects that Lucy may know more than she is saying.
The Creeping is a ghost story and a mystery, predicated on a traumatic family secret. While Lucy’s dementia makes the film superficially akin to recent horrors like Jordan Graham’s Sator (2019), Natalie Erika James’ Relic (2020), and Xia Magnus’ Sanzaru (2020), with Lucy’s vanishing memories dominated by one that very much wishes to stay alive, there is also an interesting – if understated – racial element to Hooper’s film, as the mixed-race Anna represents an intersection of her parents’ different backgrounds, bridging not just the barrier between the living and the dead, but also two very different perceptions of English parochialism. Her obvious alienation amid the all-white congregation at the local church speaks volumes, yet here, in this somewhat cloyingly incestuous Little Britain of the Eighties, it is multicultural Anna who embodies both a breakaway from the stuffy past and a brighter future for the nation.
The secret at the heart of The Creeping, though bleedingly obvious from the outset, is afforded an explicit reveal which comes only gradually, and as a complete non-surprise. This does seem a structural flaw in what turns out to be entirely a tale of the expected, with its many twists all a little too well forecast. Nonetheless the otherworldly incursions here, from poltergeist business to traditional under-sheet spectres to a bogeyman who becomes ever more arrestingly present (even as Lucy fades away), are all impressively mounted and spookily lit – on what is clearly a tight budget – heralding Hooper as an emerging talent to watch.
strap: Jamie Hooper’s ghost story tracks the trauma of one or two family secrets that refuse to be forgotten
© Anton Bitel