Occurrence At Mills Creek (2019) - A Short Film Review

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

Directed By: Don Swanson, Written By: Don Swanson, Starring: Betsy Lynn George, Ava Psoras, Alexa Mechling & Joe Fishel.


I recently had the opportunity to see Don Swanson’s Occurrence At Mills Creek. A short (2019) film functioning as a prelude to a soon to be released feature film of the same title.

Focusing on themes of mourning, loss and guilt, Occurrence at Mills Creek is a reasonably complex tale that utilises its 20-minute runtime to tell its story as coherently as possible over such a short period.

Having already lost her mother (Betsy Lynn George-Point Break, The New Adventures of Superman), to a sudden illness, Clara (Ava Psoras) must now deal with the passing of her sister Cassandra (Alexa Mechling-Horror Hotel). On the day of Cassandra’s funeral, she is visited by her estranged father (Joe Fishel-The Dark Knight Rises, Jack Reacher), which only serves to remind Clara of how alone she really is now her sister has gone.

Clara’s father isn’t the only one who has returned to pay her a visit. Her deceased mother and sister are back and their attempts to communicate serve only to frighten Clara and cause her feelings of guilt to bubble to the surface. It seems that Clara may have had more of a hand in her sister's early demise than she is letting on. Are paranormal forces at work or is Clara simply losing her grip on reality?

From left to right: Alexa Mechling, Betsy Lynn George & Ava Psoras.

Short films are a tricky thing to perfect. To take all of your ideas and compress them into something that clocks in at under 30 minutes can produce a film that feels overstuffed. This is Occurrence at Mills Creek’s only real weakness. There is a wealth of ideas at play here and consequently, due to its non-linear structuring, things become a little flustered and hard to follow at times.

That being said, the positives outweigh that one negative. The film is beautifully shot. Swanson knows how to build atmosphere and there is a very real sense of psychological horror at work. The cast does a terrific job with the time they are given to communicate the story.

What I liked most about this film was the score. It’s hauntingly beautiful and adds a whole other level of depth and atmosphere to the picture. I’m a big fan of film soundtracks and could happily sit and listen to Mark D’Errico’s score while trying to get in the appropriate frame of mind to write something creepy.

Overall, this short is a relatively small budget affair yet feels far loftier than its budget would have you believe. This is largely down to the cinematography. All shots are strikingly set up. Its use of silhouettes and lighting enriches every scene.

I’m uncertain whether the short film serves as a standalone tale or as an extended trailer for the feature film that is released next year. There is certainly no scarcity of ideas here and given a reasonable runtime, Occurrence at Mills Creek (2020) could be something special. There is plenty of scope to flesh out the story and the characters more and with a bigger budget, the more haunting elements could really get under the viewer's skin.

I’m very excited to see where they go with it from here. My summary is that Occurrence at Mill’s Creek is an ambitious, well made, short with plenty of potential to up the ante with regard to its existing understanding of what makes a great horror film tick.

I look forward to the feature film and any project that Swanson works on in the future. There could be a great career ahead of him.

You can see the trailer by clicking the link below: