Creeping Death

Creeping Death (2023)

Creeping Death had its world première on Fri 25th Aug at FrightFest

It is Halloween in small-town Ashville, New York, and teenaged Tim Garner (Matt Sampere, also writer/director/editor/composer of The Creeping Death) is conflicted. He wants to go out that night with his friends Nate (Hunter Kohl), Tramer (Ian Brown), Isaac (K Cody Hunt), Isaac’s girlfriend P J (played by Elise Rackemann, and named for P.J. Soles’ similar character in John Carpenter’s Halloween), and Danielle (Delian Lincourt), but he has to stay at home to look after his beloved terminally ill mother Linda (Monique Parent) while his paramedic father Fred (Scott Lea) is out working on this busiest of nights. Tim is a good boy, kind and dutiful, but much as Fred has put this ordinary middle-class family into immense debt for Linda’s medical bills, Tim has sacrificed his youth to his mother’s care – and in an unguarded moment, he expresses to her his anger, resentment and frustration, before reasserting his love. 

So the title of this film comes with several references. On the one hand the ‘creeping death’ is Linda’s cancer – she is said to have just weeks to live – and the shadow which that has cast over the Garner family. And on the other it is the end of a youth that Tim has barely been able to enjoy, and which is coming to a rapid close as adulthood approaches. Indeed this night would have been one of Tim’s last chances to court Danielle, whom he has loved from afar for years, but who is about to leave town for university. So this Halloween, a transitional season when the boundary between the living and the dead is said to be briefly open, is to be a trial for Tim and the others, testing their commitments and loyalties, and pitting their adolescent urges against more adult responsibilities, even as devilry and death are being staged on every street. If on this long, dark night of the soul, the teens will be painfully confronted with a grown-up world of consequences, their mortality will be embodied by an ancient Aos Sí (Alan Maxson), a pagan figure whose name receives every conceivable pronunciation from these clueless characters, and who is conjured by one of Nate’s reckless teen transgressions.

These are the themes at play in Sampere’s film, but unfortunately they are delivered through leaden dialogue and a set-up plagued with the sort of sound issues that suggest a film that was rushed for its première. This kind of supernatural slasher – where an unkillable monster pursues its victims relentlessly, tearing them apart one by one and exposing the futility of their every effort to stop it coming – has been seen many times before (the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Jeepers Creepers franchises have done it to death), and Sampere’s film is certainly backward-looking and reverential towards its filmic forebears. Where it lacks the abstraction, not to mention the sophistication, of David Robert Mitchell’s otherwise thematically similar It Follows (2014), it does eventually offer graphic practical effects, stylised Halloween lighting and a striking antagonist – a dark skeletal frame with a fire behind its eye sockets (think Ghost Rider, or a Jack-o’-lantern) and with a sack in which it collects its treats of harvested human body parts.

Once unleashed, Aos Sí is silent and implacable – or rather placable only by a morally unconscionable act – and so its menacing presence elicits these characters’ inner conflicts, revealing not only their humanity but also their monstrous capacity, in extremis, for betrayal. Creeping Death might produce a conflict in the viewer too, witnessing a filmmaker still awkwardly coming of age, but showing promise for the future.    

strap: Matt Sampere’s Halloween-set supernatural slasher confronts late teens with their encroaching mor(t)ality

© Anton Bitel