A classic and spooky haunted house tale

Jamie Hooper’s haunted house movie is a delightful classic throwback.

by Jamie Hooper the creeper shares its lineage with Ghostwatch, The Stone Band, and several other BBC ghost stories. It begins with a young Anna Reynolds (Taliyah Blair) being told an unusually chilling ghost story by her father, Harry (Jonathan Nyati). All the hallmarks of the haunted house are there. Old British cottage? To verify. Thunderstorm? To verify. Opaque warnings so you don’t wander in the dark? To verify. Anna wakes up at 3:23 a.m. that morning, walks into the kitchen, and has a deep, traumatic fear.

Years later (the creeper is set in 1985), Anna (Riann Steele) returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing grandmother, Lucy (Jane Lowe). Her father recently passed away. But since Anna grew up with Lucy, she feels a considerable affinity towards her. As a result, Anna compartmentalizes her childhood trauma to stay with her grandmother during her final days.

the creeperat first, might as well be called Conspiracy. An early soundtrack entry sounds suspiciously like Joseph Bishara’s work on the James Wan classic. The title font could also have a copyright 2013 stamped on it. There are slamming doors, sheets pulled from the bed as people sleep, a creepy music box, and ominous misdirection punctuated by a ghostly, horrifying face. Return chills are effective, no doubt, but they aren’t just imitations. Throughout the first act, the creeper is Conjuring-lite, a low-budget imitation of this century’s quintessential haunted property.

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Fortunately, this familiarity is either an illusion or a necessary evil to get the audience on board. Like the creeper progresses, Hooper’s influences unfold. Just one more Conjuring-riff, the creeper is a heartfelt but necessarily sinister throwback to the BBC ghost stories of yesteryear. With effective scares still suitable for broadcast, loads of British accents and ghosts, sheets and all, made sensational, the creeper is a campfire tale with considerable respect for its ancestors. It’s a film tailor-made for stormy nights in front of the fire. These are the kind of ghost stories grandparents used to tell your parents before passing them on to you. the creeper is inviting and accessible, a story that feels unmistakably personal but at the same time universal.

However, the heat does not matter much. the creeper is not free from the deposited dust of ghostly shenanigans. Anna is particularly confused at first. It’s a curious choice considering not only what’s going on, but also his childhood experiences at home. Steele is incredibly strong in the role. But the script never allows for interiority beyond what Anna recounts during frequent discussions with Karen (Sophie Thompson), Lucy’s babysitter. It’s hard to grasp what she feels beyond fear or confusion. Steele does his best, but the creeper feels compelled to fit it into an archetype of every haunted house protagonist that has come before it. There’s a terse energy to the first half attributable more to conventional character arcs than Hooper’s assured work with The crawlers scary scenes.

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These scares work too. While the creeper contains only one truly unpredictable jerk, the more familiar jumps work quite well, especially given the pedigree of Hooper’s inspiration here. As the supernatural tension builds, Hooper wisely bases it on something distinctly personal for the characters. It’s certainly darker than the vibe Hooper cultivated before, though he never strays too far into uncomfortable or exploitative territory.

the creeper is a classic haunted house movie that never strives to do more than pay homage to the kinds of British classics that made houses spooky in the first place. A tapestry of BBC and The changing (another alliterative inspiration), it’s a film with a clear goal in mind. With clearly visible lines drawn between good and evil, fear and hope, the creeper scares like the best of them. It’s unlikely to have the impact of its ancestors, but on dark, stormy nights when the lights are out, it doesn’t need it. It will still slip into the minds of the public.

Summary

the creeper is a delightful ghost story that perhaps leans too heavily on its haunted past

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