Main cast: Graham Skipper (Max), Ashley Clements (Jenna), Jonathan Kite (Chet), Jocelin Donahue (Alissa), Mark Kelly (Guy), Matt Long (Eric), Amanda Fuller (Linda), Catherine Parker (Sasha), Morgan Peter Brown (Steve), Michelle DeFraites (Kara), Stephanie Drake (Mary), Peter Cilella (Michael), Makeda Declet (Frankie), Megan Duffy (Suzy), Brea Grant (Sally), Matt Mercer (Scott), Edward Hong (Ben), Herve Clermont (Manny), Chase Williamson (Ty), Josh Drennen (Darren), Jesse Merlin (Spencer), and Diane Sellers (Suzanne)
Directors: David Ian McKendry and Rebekah McKendry
All Creatures Were Stirring, which is a most intriguing title indeed, is the debut directorial and screenwriting effort of David Ian and Rebekah McKendry. This is an anthology movie, which probably on paper seems simpler to do on a lower budget than a full length film. However, the cast is pretty impressive, as there are some notable names in the indie horror and genre as well as comedians, so either the budget isn’t too low or the McKendrys are well connected indeed.
The basic premise is that we have Max and Jenna awkwardly getting together as Christmas orphans and Max has reserved tickets for them to watch some kind of theatrical performance called All Creatures Were Stirring. Basically, three people stand on a small stage and prance around reenacting things like mannequins came to life, and part of me wonders whether that would have been a more interesting movie to watch. You see, this play has five acts, which become the story segments in this movie, but the actual segment is a “real movie” type, not three people in minimal make-up running around using minimal props to enact various scenarios.
The first segment is The Stockings Were Hung, where some office folks reluctantly get together for a gift exchange party in a meeting room when things get funky. They are trapped inside, poisonous gas starts seeping into the building outside, and those outside the meeting room die off. Worse, some of the gifts are booby trapped, killing those that open them, and a voice over the phone insist that they have 10 minutes to open the rest of the gifts or this person will come over and kill them. Wait, won’t the gas kill them off first? At any rate, one may go, oh, this is The Belko Experiment—another movie that I need to get around to review one of these days—but it’s actually worse.
This is because the segment is short, and hence, the characters have zero personality and their relationship with one another isn’t fleshed out, so I have zero interest to go “Ooh!” when it is revealed this one is sleeping with that one, or this one wants to fire everyone. Things happen so abruptly that I am taken aback when the whole thing ends, because I’m pretty sure there had been a few big scenes taken out or something, as the end result feels so disjointed and unsatisfying to watch. Needless to say, this one is not exactly an ideal segment to kick off this movie.
Next is Dash Away All, which is the most coherent one of the bunch. A guy is on his way to celebrate his birthday and Christmas with his family when he locks himself out of his car, oops. Worse, his mobile is inside his car. While he can only wait for the car servicing folks that would only arrive at who knows when, he encounters two strange women that may have their own reasons to offer their help to him. This one isn’t exactly the most original story, but it is short, simple, and on point.
All through the House, which has nothing to do with the Tales from the Crypt episode of the more of less same name, is about a Scrooge that is visited by a more menacing variation of the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, thanks to probably tad too much cocaine for his own good. Jonathan Kite puts on a pretty entertaining manic performance, but that’s when I start to notice one glaring flaw of the movie: it doesn’t know how to set the atmosphere for either scares or laughs. While Mr Kite is doing his best to make people chuckle and cringe, this segment has some of the most forgettable, barely there music and sound effects to underscore both tension and punchline. As a result, the poor fellow is carrying the act all on his own, without any help from the post-production crew. It’s like watching a quasi-silent film; it’s just not as fun as when there are the right kinds of sound effects and music to bolster the atmosphere.
The same issue continues in Arose Such a Clatter, which is about a man knocking down a reindeer and killing it off to hide the traces of the accident. As you can imagine, the reindeer comes back for deadly vengeance. This one is short, simple, on point, but the sound department really lets this one down.
Finally, In a Twinking, which features the biggest star in the main billing because, you know, Crazy Rich Asians, sees Constance Wu’s character rudely deciding to invite herself into a friend’s place to give him a Christmas party despite his repeated refusal to entertain guests during the holiday season. Well, she will discover exactly why the poor fellow never had guests over for the last ten Christmases…
I don’t know what this one is trying to do. It starts off with a misdirection to let me think that the guy is probably a werewolf hoping to chain himself up at home so that he won’t eat anyone, but it turns out that his problem is of a completely different nature entirely. This one offers very little explanation as to why this segment ends so abruptly. If this one were supposed to make some kind of statement about the importance of having the holiday spirit, I’m afraid it’s been mangled during the execution of this unsatisfying segment.
Then, we close off the story of Max and Jenna… which is another eye-rolling effort at trying a bit too hard to be ambiguous or clever, only to lose me completely.
All the Creatures Were Stirring certainly feels like a debut effort because while it has some interesting ideas and has assembled a pretty good cast, the execution is off. The pacing feels slow at times, there is no good set up of fear or tension, and some of the segments just end like the floor has suddenly disappeared beneath me and I’ve crashed right down into the bottom of the pit. Hence, while the movie looks good and is put together far better than some lower-budget films out there, it’s just not fun or memorable enough to make the grade.