‘Tis the season for a new Christmas-themed horror movie. Yes, it’s Day 5 of the 12 Days of Christmas Carnage. Today, we’re celebrating with a brand new horror anthology under our Christmas tree. Husband-and-wife duo, David and Rebekah McKendry, make their directorial debuts with All the Creatures Were Stirring. Both McKendry’s have worked in horror in some capacity.
On Christmas Eve, Max and Jenna meet at a local community theater for their first date. They’re treated to a bizarre show, All The Creatures Were Stirring, comprised of five short plays. Each play puts a twist on familiar Christmas themes. From dreadful Christmas office parties to last-minute shopping excursions, All the Creatures Stirring promises Max and Jenna some truly disturbing Yuletide festivities.
All the Creatures Were Stirring An Uneven Anthology
Horror anthology movies seem to go in and out of vogue. In the 1960’s and 1970s, Amicus Productions delivered memorable British anthology films like The House That Dripped Blood. If you were a kid in the 1980’s, you’re lucky enough to remember Creepshow. More recently, V/H/S and The ABC’s of Death resurrected the horror anthology for a new generation. Earlier in 2018, Ghost Stories proved to be a British horror anthology movie comeback and one of the best new horror movies of the year.
Early segments The Stockings Were Hung and Dash Away All are standouts. In particular, Dash Away All’s story of a late-evening shopper stranded in a parking lot offers genuine suspense and clever misdirection.
Perhaps the most common criticism leveled at anthology movies is quality across segments. Unfortunately, it’s a criticism that All The Creatures Were Stirring can’t escape. Though the McKendry’s sprinkle clever ideas across each segment, there’s definitely an uneven feel hanging over the movie. Early segments The Stockings Were Hung and Dash Away All are standouts. In particular, Dash Away All’s story of a late-evening shopper stranded in a parking lot offers genuine suspense and clever misdirection. The office Christmas party gone horribly wrong in ‘The Stockings Were Hung” is sure to prompt shocks and guffaws in equal measures. But then ‘All Through the House‘ feels like another pointless retread of A Christmas Carol. Even the wrap-around first-date story, which starts so promisingly, ends with a whimper.
Good Ideas, Inconsistent Execution
Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of inspiring creativity stirring in this horror anthology. All of the short segments offer tongue-in-cheek twists on familiar Christmas traditions. Yet the McKendry’s don’t necessarily execute each of these ideas with the same results. Case in point, ‘Arose Such a Clatter’s’ vengeful reindeer story promises some dark lunacy. But the segment feels clunky, even with its reindeer POV camera shots. Arguably, this segment most shows the movie’s budgetary limitations. It also slows down a movie that should not feel long with its relatively short runtime. ‘In A Twinkling’ fakes out audiences, promising one horror story, only to quickly subvert expectations. Nevertheless, it still can’t shake feeling like a run-of-the-mill Twilight Zone episode.
Still if there’s a segment that truly illustrates problems with execution, it’s this wraparound story. Such great buildup only to completely deflate itself at the end.
To their credit, the McKendry’s show no shortage of innovation and wit. Yes, In A Twinkling falls short of early lofty expectations, but the directing duo play with nostalgic Christmas movie tropes, like black-and-white cinematography, to some effect. There’s even a fun tinsel joke in All Through The House. For most of the movie, the wraparound story fastens you to your seat. Still if there’s a segment that truly illustrates problems with execution, it’s this wraparound story. Such great buildup only to completely deflate itself at the end.
Excellent Cast a Highlight in All The Creatures
Indie film fans should have a blast picking out familiar faces in All The Creatures Were Stirring. Regardless of screen time, everyone looks like they’re having a blast with the materials. All the performances are uniformly good. But kudos go to Jonathan Kite, Constance Wu, and Morgan Peter Brown. Kite makes the weakest segment, All Through The House, watchable with his full commitment to a 21st-century Ebeneezer Scrooge. Likewise, Constance Wu and Morgan Brown will keep you sitting through the off-kilter, In A Twinkling. Wu, who’s had a breakout year with Crazy Rich Asians, continues to promise big things. And Brown gives a delightfully idiosyncratic performance.
All The Creatures Were Stirring Is Equal Parts Fun and Frustrating
Yes, All The Creatures Were Stirring will prove frustrating for a lot of viewers. Nonetheless, horror fans should find enough to like about this new anthology entry to make it worth a look. The McKendry’s show a lot of potential and deserve credit for getting the most out of a limited budget. Sometimes you have to dig through some socks and underwear in your Christmas stocking to get to the goodies.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-