FrightFest might have finished over a week ago but it's not quite over for us yet. We're still catching up with some of the filmmakers who debuted their films at the festival and one of the films that we really wanted to find out more about was 'The Creeping'. Our writer Gavin Logan managed to catch up with Director and co-writer of the film Jamie Hooper to ask him about the cast, the importance of the location and the inspiration for the story.
GL: Before we get into the film I wanted to mention FrightFest first. I’m guessing you’ve been to the festival before? What does the festival mean to you?
JH: I've been to FrightFest many times before, I think the first time was around 2008. I bought a few single tickets and loved it. The following year I bought a festival pass and have been going ever since. It has a really cool vibe because everyone who attends FrightFest absolutely loves horror films and genre movies in general, and loves talking about them. Plus all the attending filmmakers and actors generally hang out for the whole festival so you get to meet some really cool people.
GL: What other films did you catch at FrightFest this year that really made an impression on you?
JH: I've recently moved out of London so unfortunately between travelling and promoting 'The Creeping' I didn't manage to catch any other films, but there's a whole bunch I'm looking forward to seeing like Andy Mitton's 'The Harbinger', Keishi Kondo's 'New Religion', plus the films by the First Blood directors such as 'Walking Against the Rain', 'The Group', 'Cerebrum'.
GL: 'The Creeping' is, at its core, a simple atmospheric ghost story. Was that a sub-genre that you were a fan of growing up and what are some of your favourite ghost story horror films?
JH: Yes, I love ghost stories. There's something inherently melancholy and bittersweet about them. Ghost stories generally rely on atmosphere and mood to create tension which is what appeals to me as a filmmaker and audience member. Some of my favourites include 'The Changeling', 'The Others', 'The Innocents', 'The Orphanage', 'The Uninvited' (1944), 'Poltergeist', 'The Frighteners', 'The Devil's Backbone'. Lots of films beginning with "THE" titles, so now 'The Creeping' can join them.
GL: As you mentioned, there were a few noticeable influences from certain classic horror films that popped up in 'The Creeping'. The opening sequence reminded me of the opening from 'The Shining' when Jack is driving his family up that long, winding road to the Overlook. Did any of these influences happen naturally or did you write them into the script purposely as a homage?
JH: Most of the influences in 'The Creeping' came about naturally as part of the story, but obviously when you have a car driving through winding roads people always think of 'The Shining'. There are a few moments I put in that made sense within the story but were also fun homages to other films, such as the scene with the wheelchair which is a reference to 'The Changeling', and there's a shot towards the end where we decided to go full 'Exorcist' with the lighting. I try not to be too on the nose with references and homages but sometimes it's fun to throw in little nods to other films for the people that will pick up on them.
GL: Talking about the script, you co-wrote it with Helen Miles. How did the initial idea come together and did the script change at all from that initial idea?
JH: The initial idea for 'The Creeping' began when Helen's parents moved out of Greater London and ended up buying a stunning 1000 year old cottage in the Somerset countryside, with a Gothic church and cemetery right next door. Helen sent me some photos of the location and I immediately messaged her saying, "you know what I'm going to say?" She responded, "we're making a feature here." So that was the initial spark of how the film came to exist. Without Helen's parents being gracious enough to agree to let us use their home to make a film 'The Creeping' would not exist. Helen and I came up with the story together and I wrote the script based on our ideas around the location. We reverse-engineered the story to fit the exact location, which is why I wrote scenes involving an outdoor swimming pool and private orchard, purely because the location had them. You don’t find many 1000 year old cottages with outdoor swimming pools overlooked by a Gothic church and cemetery, so we wanted to make use of everything the location provided. Being both idyllic and haunting in appearance, it was the perfect setting for an atmospheric horror feature.
GL: The cottage location is gorgeous. In a movie like this the building is naturally extremely important to the plot and the scares. Curious to know what other type of building or location would you love to shoot a horror film in?
JH: There are so many possibilities for cool horror locations. With 'The Creeping' I tickled my itch to make a supernatural Gothic horror, especially with the church and cemetery location next to the cottage. I would love to make a full-on Gothic horror set in an old castle. I recently finished a script set in 1890s London which I'd love to make. I've also got a script that's entirely set in a tube carriage stuck in a tunnel that'd be loads of fun.
GL: This is your debut feature film but you’ve made loads of shorts over the years. What were some of the challenges you faced in transitioning to a feature length film?
JH: All the challenges I found with 'The Creeping' were generally the same as making short films, just amplified by the fact the shoot is longer. On 'The Creeping' we had two weeks of night shoots so the majority of the problems we faced were related to battling the imminent sunrise. Somehow we mostly managed to stay on schedule and capture everything we needed to tell the story, but it definitely tests you as a director when you still have a whole bunch of shots to get and you can literally see the sun getting higher every minute.
GL: The cast are all fantastic. I love Riann Steele and Sophie Thompson and all their seemingly mundane interactions. Was it the regular casting process that you followed and what do you think Riann and Sophie specifically brought to their roles?
JH: I'm biased but I think the entire cast of 'The Creeping' are fantastic and give phenomenal performances. We cast the film in a very standard way. We had a Casting Director, Annie Rowe, who sent the script to the actors' agents and went from there. The trio of Riann Steele, Sophie Thompson and Jane Lowe were fantastic to work with and I loved every minute I spent collaborating with them on their characters. Each actor brought something unique to their role which fit perfectly with their characters and the story as a whole.
GL: Jane Lowe has the difficult role of playing Lucy, who suffers from dementia. It’s always a huge challenge to portray any sort of mental condition or medical condition like dementia and do it successfully. How did you and Jane approach that performance?
JH: Jane's performance is all Jane. I obviously wrote the script and the part, but other than that I let her get on with it. Jane has been acting since the 1960s and is really old-school in her preparation. She not only knew her part but the entire script inside out, even better than me. She nailed every single take and really had a handle on the emotional beats of the character. Honestly I didn't have to direct her at all, so she made my job incredibly easy.
GL: 'The Creeping' isn't just a copy and paste haunted house horror film. It addresses themes of childhood trauma and abuse. I think the cast really helped to turn the revelation at the end into a genuinely emotional moment. Did you have any hesitations about the revelation involving William feeling too exploitative?
JH: There's definitely a fine line between exploring a topic and being exploitative, hopefully 'The Creeping' lands on the correct side. We didn't want to be explicit or show anything that felt unnecessary, it's always more powerful to suggest what's happening and let the audience fill things in. With ghost stories there's always a need to have a reason for the haunting, with that in mind I wanted 'The Creeping' to be a much more personal film that you generally see in the horror genre. A lot of the time horror films have a random family move into a random house and strange things begin happening, but they have nothing to do with that particular set of characters, the scary aspect of the story could happen to anyone. I wanted 'The Creeping' story to be specific to my characters, the darkness haunting Anna is explicitly related to her and wouldn't happen to anyone else. So I think that helped make the revelation more emotional than it otherwise would've been.
GL: I loved the scene where we see the silhouette of William in the doorframe for the 1st time. What made you want to go further and actually show the ghostly face towards the end and were you tempted to try to do it with practical prosthetics?
JH: I was definitely in two minds about showing the ghost but I think, as an audience member, if a film hints at something for the entire story you kind of need to reveal what the haunting actually is, otherwise it can leave people frustrated. Unfortunately we didn't have enough budget or time to utilize prosthetics, but we did film Peter MacQueen practically with makeup. The film is set in the 80s and I wanted the FX to subtly be reminiscent of that decade. I didn't want full-on CGI spectres floating around. Hopefully the combination of an actor in makeup enhanced with some VFX was in-keeping with the story, and pushed home the idea that Anna is literally confronting the past that's been haunting her.
GL: What are some of your favourite practical effects or prosthetics in horror or other genres?
JH: I don't think you can beat Carpenter's 'The Thing', or Cronenberg's 'The Fly', or Cameron's 'T2' for practical makeup effects. Those films stand up to this day. There's definitely something about actually filming an effect rather than creating it in post production that makes a film stand the test of time.
GL: How do you feel about the reaction 'The Creeping' has been getting so far on the festival circuit?
JH: I couldn't be happier with the reaction it's been getting. Whenever any micro budget indie films get made it seems like a miracle. For 'The Creeping' to screen at prestigious festivals and get great reactions from audiences and websites such as yourself is beyond my wildest dreams.
GL: So what’s next for you Jamie?
JH: Like all filmmakers I have numerous scripts at various stages of development. I have one script in-particular I’d love to make next, I call it a psychosexual body horror, think 'Possession' meets 'Black Swan' with hints of 'Mulholland Drive' and 'Repulsion', and some Cronenbergian body horror thrown in. It makes the most sense for me in terms of scope, budget and ambition. So if any financiers are reading give me a call.
GL: Well that sound amazing. We will definitely be keeping an eye out for that one. Thank you so much Jamie for taking the time to answer my questions. We wish you all the best with the film in the future.
- Gavin Logan
'The Creeping' received its European Premiere at FrightFest 2022 on August 27th