All The Creatures Were Stirring (2018)
Directed By: Rebekah McKendry, David Ian McKendry
Written By: Rebekah McKendry, David Ian McKendry
All The Creatures Were Stirring faced an uphill battle with me before I even pressed play. I’m not a fan of holiday horror movies and there are very few anthology films that I like. As an anthology film of Christmas tales, it didn’t seem like All The Creatures and I would be a match.
Most holiday horror films end up just being a variation of something we have already seen a thousand times. Typically either a killer Santa Claus or a trio of malevolent ghosts. They also have a tendency to come up short when it comes to creating the feeling of the holidays. Meanwhile the majority of anthologies have one good story and three or four others that are below average.
The question is: Does All The Creatures Were Stirring avoid these pitfalls? The answer: Mostly. There is no serial killer dressed as Santa in sight and all of the stories are interesting and engaging. They even managed to make a wrap around that has it’s own sense of horror and intrigue which is almost unheard of, usually the wrap around segment is the weakest of them all as most filmmakers just use it as a device to get from tale to tale without treating it as an important piece of the film.
The one area were the film falls short is in creating the feeling of Christmas. This is a difficult thing to describe, let alone pull off, but the best holiday movies reflect the feeling of the holidays and I never got that from All The Creatures Were Stirring. Sure there are Christmas decorations and presents and lights throughout but it still doesn’t feel like Christmas. It could be at least partly due to the stories being set in Southern California, Christmas probably has a different feel there than most places, especially places that get snow and freezing temperatures. What husband and wife, co-writers and co-directors (how in the world did they not kill each other?) manage to do better than most is create the feeling of an ’80’s horror anthology. It may not have felt like Christmas but it definitely felt familiar and very welcome.
Let’s take a look at the individual segments:
This is usually the most overlooked and underutilized portion of an anthology film. All The Creatures Were Stirring uses it maybe more effectively than any other anthology I have seen. It features a couple who are on what I assumed is their first date. They don’t have a ton of options available to them on Christmas Eve so they end up at this strange little black box theater to take in a show. This serves as the jumping off point for the other stories and also allows us to follow the couple as their evening becomes increasingly interesting.
The Stockings Were Hung
The first story takes place at an office Christmas party that quickly devolves into a game of life and death. There is a moment in this segment that made me jump about 6 feet off of my couch when it happened, it came out of nowhere and almost made me spill my Diet Pepsi. That was effective, unfortunately the rest of this segment left me worried about what I was in for. The setup is great but there isn’t much in the way of a payoff. I also found the performances to be hit and miss. Hats off to Diane Sellers though, she was terrific in this one. This honestly felt like a story that needed more time than they could give it. I’d love to see the filmmakers expand on it because it seems like they could turn it into something special, in it’s current form it feels like a half finished idea.
Dash Away All
I realized that I was in good hands while watching this segment. It is about a man who ran out to grab a few last minute things on Christmas Eve and ends up stranded in a store parking lot with only the occupants of a weird van to keep him company. I was certain that I knew what was going to happen in this story and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It brilliantly leads you down one path and then takes an abrupt turn to become something completely different than what you thought it was. It earns the moment instead of coming off cheap. The writing, acting and effects work are all great and they combine to make this segment the highlight of this film.
All Through The House
This is the story that draws inspiration from A Christmas Carol. It’s a modern day version of the classic tale. The main character is a guy named Chet who is pretty much an awful human being. Chet has no love for Christmas or anything else. Of course, by the end Chet is overflowing with holiday spirit. What makes this segment stand out are the numerous laughs along the way and an incredible performance by Jonathan Kite. For much of the short it’s just him but he delivers a great performance and carries this segment on his back.
Arose Such A Clatter
Much like the first segment, Arose Such A Clatter is a wonderful, original idea that would have been better suited in a different format. It feels like a victim of the time constraints of the anthology format. It opens with a man driving down the highway and not paying attention to the road. He hits what he believes is a deer and then heads on home. We see however that this wasn’t just any deer, it was wearing a collar that read “Blitzen”. We are also let in on the knowledge that someone or something was watching him as the accident happened. Once he arrives home we learn that it was Rudolph who was watching him and he has followed the man to his house to avenge his fellow reindeer’s death. It’s a solid idea that is a bit rushed and would have been better served if it had more time to develop. We are treated to some really great use of color, most notably the reds that are used when we see things from Rudolph’s point of view. If I had to rank the segments though, I would put this at the bottom which is unfortunate because it is an idea that has a ton of potential.
In A Twinkling
The final segment plays out like a modern day episode of the Twilight Zone, which I’m positive was the intent. This one isn’t scary at all but it is wonderfully strange and a ton of fun. It opens with a man who seems to be bothered by something in the sky as he enters his house and begins to chain himself up. I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too but no, this is not a werewolf story. It is something much more bizarre than that. He gets a call from his girlfriend who would like him to come over to spend Christmas Eve with her and some friends. He declines but she’s not having it and soon they bring the party to his place. That’s when things get weird for everyone involved. I’m not going to give it away anymore than that because it really should be seen. Just know that the cast is great, the writing is sharp and there are some great effects.
The one thing that is abundantly clear after watching All The Creatures Were Stirring is that there is no shortage of brilliant creative ideas in the McKendry household. While I didn’t feel like every segment worked I enjoyed the film as a whole and that’s the best you can ask of any anthology. There is certainly enough here to make me excited about seeing the next project from this duo.