We’ve been long overdue for a new Christmas horror anthology. The last one released was 2015’s better-than-you’d-expect A Christmas Horror Story (review), so it seems appropriate that we are getting a new one three years later in All the Creatures Were Stirring. The film marks the directorial debut of husband-and-wife duo Rebekah and David Ian McKendry. David has spent the last several years directing horror-comedy short films while Rebekah has been a prominent figure in the horror journalism community (she was Fangoria’s Director of Marketing and is now one of the co-hosts of Blumhouse’s Shock Waves Podcast). With that background, you’d expect their first feature to be a loving ode to the genre, but while that may have been the intention, All the Creatures Were Stirring is an exceedingly unfunny and lazily edited endurance test that will put even the most easily amused viewers to sleep.
Edit: A previous version of this review misspelled Rebekah McKendry’s name as Rebecca and incorrectly listed her as the current Editor-in-Chief of Blumhouse.com.
On Christmas Eve, Max (Graham Skipper, Beyond the Gates, Carnage Park) and Jenna (Ashley Clements, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party) meet for their first date at a local community theater to witness a production of the fictitious play “All the Creatures Were Stirring”. They are treated to five short plays, each with a horror-ish twist on a common holiday tradition (an office Christmas party, last-minute holiday shopping, A Christmas Carol, etc.). Those five plays make up the segments of All the Creatures Were Stirring.
Anthology films are usually an inconsistent lot, and All the Creatures Were Stirring is no different. Some of the stories work, and others don’t. The standouts are “Dash Away All”, in which a man (Matt Long) seeks help from two strangers (Catherine Parker and Mekeda Declet) when he is locked out of his car on Christmas Eve, and “In a Twinkling”, which starts off with a clever bit of lycanthropian misdirection before becoming something else entirely. “The Stockings Were Hung”, sees an office holiday party gift exchange gone wrong when a Jigsaw-like antagonist joins the game, but it fails to take advantage of its clever premise (this segment is the film’s biggest missed opportunity, as it should have been a blast). “Arose Such a Clatter”, inspires a few chuckles but barely registers in the grand scheme of things as it relies solely on a joke centered around a vengeful Rudolph. And “All Through the House” attempts to re-adapt A Christmas Carol with a game Jonathan Kite (2 Broke Girls), but other than a funny cocaine-turned-tinsel gag, it fails to add anything new to the oft-told story.
Where the film truly fails is in its editing. For a film that is only 80 minutes long, it moves along at a glacial pace. Almost every shot (not scene, but shot) goes on longer than it should. This is no doubt an effort to pad that scant 80-minute runtime, but it gives the feeling that you’re watching an amateur improv performance, full of awkward pauses as the actors try to think of something funny to say. You don’t have to be a film critic to know that editing is crucial to a film’s success, especially a comedy. Nearly every attempt at humor falls flat because the flaccid editing destroys the momentum at each and every turn. That the shots are too long makes it particularly ironic that some of the segments suffer from too much editing, particularly “The Stockings Were Hung”, which feels like it’s missing a scene.
This isn’t to say that better editing would have made the film funnier (though it might have helped), as the script, which was penned by the directors, also fails at actually being funny. The actors do what they can, but to no avail. The McKendrys do manage to work in a few creative visuals, however, especially during “In a Twinkling” with a Pleasantville-inspired black and white color palette, and “Arose Such a Clatter”, which frequently puts the camera in Rudolph’s POV. Other than that, the film is shot rather dully.
As much as I’ve harped on the film, there are a few bright spots. The aforementioned segments “Dash Away All” and “In a Twinkling” have legitimately creative premises. The cast is stacked with recognizable faces from the indie film community, some of whom fare better than others. The House of the Devil‘s Jocelin Donahue and Crazy Rich Asians‘s breakout star Constance Wu both stand out in their limited roles, while John Dies at the End‘s Chase Williamson is at the center of one of the more shocking moments in the film. Absentia‘s Morgan Peter Brown also gets one of the better character arcs (and plays off of Wu nicely) in “In a Twinkling”. Also, for a film that must have been filmed with a minuscule budget, most of the practical effects and creature effects are well done, particularly in “Dash Away All”.
It pains me to say that All the Creatures Were Stirring isn’t good, especially considering all of the talent involved. The McKendrys’ passion for the genre is obvious and infused in every scene, but hopefully these first-time filmmakers have learned from this experience. They have a lot of great ideas that just need better execution. Anyone expecting a new annual holiday viewing tradition should look elsewhere. Trick ‘r Treat, this is not.
RLJE Films will release All the Creatures Were Stirring on DVD, On Demand and Digital Video on December 4, 2018.