All the Creatures Were Stirring
To be honest, I was a little nervous when I sat down to watch All the Creatures Were Stirring. I admire co-writer/director Rebekah McKendry and the last thing I’d want to do is not like her first feature film. And, to be honest, the trailer didn’t really do a whole lot for me. But it’s difficult to truly capture the tone and story of an anthology film without making it feel disjointed. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. All the Creatures Were Stirring is genuine delight and a blast to watch.
The story is centered around a couple going on an awkward first date on Christmas Eve. They meet in front of a community playhouse that’s putting on a production called All the Creatures Were Stirring. When they are seated (featuring a cameo by Elric Kane and Sean Keller!), they are presented with small vignettes, all centered around Christmas. It’s one of those productions with minimal sets and actors who take their roles with hilarious seriousness. But as each of the stories is acted out, it morphs into each segment of the anthology. It’s a fun and smart way of handling the stories and the wrap-around.
All the Stocking Were Hung is the first of the shorts and is set at the most awkward time of the year: an office Christmas party. Working in an office environment and dealing with “mandatory fun,” the first vignette had me feeling on edge even before it got murderous. I’ve been to these types of parties; hell, I’m going to one in less than a month. And there’s nothing worse than a forced white elephant gift exchange with coworkers you really don’t know. What follows feels like a short version of The Belko Experiment, as the gifts turn deadly and the unwitting participants become…unwitting participants in a sick game. It’s fun and suspenseful with some great performances.
Dash Away All is the next segment and is a story we can all understand. It’s Christmas Eve and Eric is doing his last minute shopping. He’s the last customer to leave and through a series of misadventures, ends up locking his keys and cell phone in the car. He’s all alone in the parking lot…except for a creepy old van. Soon his troubles becomes more than simply dealing with a locked car. This segment had a great setup but that’s all it felt like: a setup to a longer story. I really liked the lore writers and directors Rebekah and David McKendry stuffed in such a short runtime, but I wanted it to go longer and be a more developed story.
All Through the House is the third story and is about Chet, a basic Scrooge misanthrope who hates…pretty much everyone. When his life starts to mimic a Christmas Carole-type show he’s unable to stop watching on TV, he starts to go through his past, present and future, with a decidedly gallows humor bent. I enjoyed the effects in this one and I loved the final line by Michael (Peter Cilella), which ends the story on a subversive note.
The fourth story is Arose Such a Clatter, which is basically about a man who hits a pretty sacred animal and the repercussions that follow. It feels a little slight, though it did make me chuckle at the audacity of the story.
The final story, In a Twinkling, is my favorite. It’s a full moon on Christmas Eve and Steve doesn’t want company. Unfortunately, company comes to him. You might think it’s a simple werewolf tale, but it turns into a hilarious subversion of Twilight Zone. It’s easily the best of the segments, buoyed by a great performance by Constance Wu. It’s glitchy and entertaining and completely unlike any anthology segment I’ve seen.
Overall, I wish some of the segments had a more definitive ending or payoff. For example, the first segment feels primed for a kind of EC comics type kicker of an ending, but other than a guffaw at who was probably the mastermind, it kind of just ended. But each segment was inventive and delightful, offering up twists on traditional Christmas stories or providing a fun “What If…” type of scenario. I also really appreciated that the wrap-around felt fully developed. Between each segment, we pop back in to see what our awkward first daters are up to and how they feel about the segments they just saw. Awkward laughs at the ridiculousness of the play turn a bit more unnerving and I loved how all the little hints came together in the end. It definitely ended the movie on a high note.
I was surprised at the number of great effects they were able to pull off for what is probably a very small budget. The creature effects, used sporadically, were fantastic and genuinely creepy. Smartly, the McKendrys utilized mostly single locations for each segment and worked with a host of indie actors that horror fans will instantly know. Even so, they utilized the small spaces effectively, so they never truly felt like “one room” episodes. At a fun, brisk 80 minutes, it’s just the right length to tease and surprise without overstaying its welcome. I really dug it and I truly think it’ll be another Christmas movie I go back to again and again for its subversive takes on traditional Christmas morality tales.