Dir. David Ian McKendry & Rebekah McKendry (2018)
A new couple winds up at a strange theater on their date, where they are subjected to a series of bizarre Christmas horror stories.
I've already done one anthology film this Christmas (A Christmas Horror Story), but since this is the second year we've done a 13 Days of Christmas list, it was worth double-dipping. I've been wanting to check this one out for several years now, and I'm a big fan of Rebekah and David McKendry and everything the couple has done for horror. David has been writing and directing horror shorts for years (as has Rebekah for that matter), and Rebekah was was Fangoria's director of marketing, both helping to elevate horror from within the industry. I've covered two of their films before (Glorious and Elevator Game), and I'm glad I'm finally getting around to this one. As we've discussed before, anthology films can be hit or miss, and I was surprised to find that this one, the McKendry's feature debut, was actually pretty damn good throughout.
The film centers around a couple on a first date who choose to go see a theater performance from a group that is focused on Christmas themes. These vignettes are transitioned into segments of the anthology, which include a work holiday party that turns deadly, a holiday shopping experience that becomes demonic, a Christmas Carol-esque exhortation to enjoy the holiday season, a reindeer on a mission of vengeance after being run over by a car, and finally an out-of-this-world reminiscence of The Twilight Zone. The wraparound, which feels like a callback to a segment of The Twilight Zone Movie, works surprisingly well to introduce the shorts and contains a decent amount of humor in its stageplay transitions as well.
I won't get too far into each of the shorts, but suffice to say they're all fairly entertaining, with the weakest being the short about the reindeer. That one didn't work too well, but the others are quite good. The direction and production, which can come across as fairly indie at times, manages to tell the stories in visually interesting and effective ways. The acting, likewise, is amateur at times but fantastic at others, and even the weaker performances don't bring down the film itself. The effects are decent but never overused, and the miniscule budget for the film never hampers anything that it is trying to achieve. All in all, the McKendry's do a fine job of bringing their vision to life without suffering from any of the impedences that usually harm indie productions.
For an anthology film, it's rare to find one that works in every segment, and the aforementioned reindeer short is really the only one that doesn't. I am especially fond of the Dash Away All short, in which a man who is shopping for Christmas presents finds himself being tethered to an ancient evil until he can find someone to which to pass the creature. This short was not only acted and directed well, it feels like it could be the basis of a much longer story. The concept of an anthology horror works particularly well because of the nature of telling scary stories, and the McKendry's never lose that campfire feel during any portion of the film. It's certainly not the best anthology you'll come across, but in the rarity that is Christmas horror anthologies, it's one of the better ones out there.
Who this movie is for: Horror anthology fans, Christmas horror aficionados, Thespians
Bottom line: All the Creatures Were Stirring is not the best Christmas horror anthology, but it's better than I expected going in. The shorts are all well thought out, and there's clearly a ton of genre love that has been put into the film. While several of the shorts within are not fully realized, this is a decent effort, especially for a first feature film, and it is just brimming with yuletide spirit. There's not a whole lot more that you can ask for from a holiday horror, and this is one that is well worth the time investment. It's streaming on Shudder, and I definitely recommend checking it out this holiday season.