For all the holiday cheer that Christmas brings with it, there’s a fair share of doom and gloom there too. Countless movies have mined the subject over the years, yet there’s one sub-genre that’s remained largely untapped: that of the anthology film. To date, there’s only been really one or two other entries. Neither of which are the tips of average movie watcher’s tongues. That’s where All The Creatures Were Stirring wants to come in. Weaving together five tales of yuletide jeer, it’s a film better left on the shelf. Regardless how much it tries to rise above it’s stumbles.
On Christmas Eve two lonely souls, Max (Graham Skipper) and Jenna (Ashley Clements), meet for a first date. Without many options, they’re led to take in a night at a local dingy theater. An avant-garde trio of performers crudely pantomimes intros, transiting to the film’s next segment. The whole local and it’s other patrons make for an intriguing setting. It has a rather low-grade Lynchian feeling to it all, yet much like the rest of the feature, is woefully underdeveloped.
The shorts included here all take their names from lines in the poem, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. “The Stockings Were Hung” sees an office Christmas party turn into a Saw-like house (er, boardroom) of horror. “Arose Such a Clatter” evokes elements of Giallo films with its colored gel work and striking score, in it’s tale of reindeer focused revenge. “All Through the House” fills the requisite Christmas Carol spot (2 if you count the movie on TV) that follows a curmudgeon as he does coke and is visited by three demonic spirits.
While each of those previously mentioned entries have a moment or two that make them memorable, two stand out above the rest. “In A Twinkling” is sure to get talked about the most, by virtue of the talent involved. Steve (actor/producer Morgan Peter Brown) prefers to celebrate Christmas alone, due to a dark secret, but sees that tradition broken when his girlfriend (Constance Wu) and friends come over uninvited. What starts innocently enough, devolves into a mini Twilight Zone episode. Wu’s inclusion is interesting given how much her stick has risen due to Crazy Rich Asians. Here she barely registers as a blip.
On the other hand, “Dash Away All” is far and beyondthe strongest of all segments. So much so that it would work well as an altogether separate short. A man (Matt Long) gets locked out of his car after some last minute shopping and must contend with a creepy van and it’s two drivers (Makeda Declet & Catherine Parker), until help arrives. It benefits from an original idea that’s executed with great aplomb. Though it still succumbs to the same problems that plague the film as a whole.
Of all the issues holding All The Creatures Were Stirring back (way back), the main culprit is an overriding sense of miss opportunities. Each story has an intriguing enough hook or a moment that makes it memorable, yet they still seem like they short change the audience. It mostly boils down to the abrupt, yet in the end merciful, 80 minute run time. Segments feel as if they’re sprinting for the finish line, rather that
Anthologies are often notoriously fickle productions. It’s hard to think of many where people actively love all the included shorts. There’s always a weak link, but All The Creatures Were Stirring features multiple. Part of this could be writer and director’s Rebekah McKendry and David Ian McKendry choice not to include any voices other than their own. A strange decision, seeing the bevy of indie talent they’ve wrangled for the production. They clearly have an affinity for horror (Rebekah co-hosts the Shock Waves podcast) that just doesn’t fully gel here. Yet, for all the problems or misjudgements, there’s enough solid nuggets on display to believe that given a larger budget, a singular topic and more focused script, the McKendrys could make a great film. This just isn’t it.
You can easily, easily do far worse than All The Creatures Were Stirring. Specially as it concerns choosing a new film to watch this Christmas. Although, the majority those other terrible offerings may prove more entertaining to sit through. As many small instances of ingenuity as there are here, every story is cut off before it can fully stretch its legs. For those still dead set on seeking out the film, a word of advice. Make a full night of it, by pairing this with another (better) holiday anthology. Namely 2015’s surprisingly superior Christmas anthology A Christmas Horror Story. The law of averages will work out in your favor. Instead of feeling like you’re getting a lump of coal in your stocking.
All The Creatures Were Stirring is available now on DVD, VOD and Shudder.