Now that we’re in the post-Thanksgiving season, it’s the perfect time to seek out holiday-themed horror, with All the Creatures Were Stirring scratching that itch. Not only does the film fulfill our holiday horror desires, but it’s also an anthology, a tried and true approach to making the best out of a potentially thin concept. I mean, we have movies like Krampus, Gremlins, and the Silent Night, Deadly Night series that we can annually revisit, though this new anthology has now entered the battlefield in hopes of cementing itself as a film to watch every year to get you in the spirit of the season. While the individual segments do manage to deliver a variety of horrific interpretations of the holiday, it underwhelms with its horror and humor, despite having the best of intentions.
The first segment, “The Stockings Were Hung,” depicts an office party where the employees are locked in and forced to open gifts that will either be their salvation or their demise, with the tension revealing how the co-workers truly feel about one another. The segment feels somewhere between The Belko Experiment and Office Christmas Party and, given that I don’t really like either of those films, I didn’t connect much with this story. The narrative had to expedite the tension to fit the timeframe of the vignette, leading to some massive leaps in logic that were far too difficult to grasp. The story runs its course in a shorter amount of time than most viewers spend being introduced to the protagonists in the Saw films, which is time we invest in their wellbeing. The concept was fine, but the expedited tension meant that we only just began caring about the characters by the time the segment was over.
“Dash Away All” depicts a man who locks himself out of his car, only for two women in a van to offer assistance. This is a horror movie, so obviously these ladies are up to no good, but I don’t want to say what kind of madness unfolds, given that this is one of the film’s stronger segments. The inventiveness of the, we’ll say “shenanigans,” is pretty cool, offering up some unique shenanigans I’ve never quite seen before. It might feel like a cop out to only say this segment was “pretty good” without really elaborating, but as to not spoil anything, I’ll say this one was pretty good!
What would a Christmas-themed horror anthology be without a riff on A Christmas Carol? Well, “All Through the House” delivers just that, albeit a condensed version of the key elements of the holiday that still manages to get the point across. The ghosts in the segment are a lot creepier than what we’ve seen in most other versions of the story, which helps inject some actual horror into the vignette that embraces comedy much more than horror. This sequence is also “not bad,” though that might be due to the effectiveness of the original premise that has been adapted ad nauseam.
“Arose Such a Clatter” depicts a man hitting a deer, fatally wounding it, To put it out of its misery, he smashes its head in with a rock, only for audiences to learn it was one of Santa’s reindeer, resulting in a killer with a glowing red nose following the man home, seeking revenge. What makes this segment work so well is that it has an inventive premise that will immediately hook viewers with its cleverness, allowing the rest of the short to play out as a relatively straightforward horror story, regardless of the absurdity of the concept. Directors Rebekah and David Ian McKendry use familiar genre tropes to deliver an entertaining and goofy tale of revenge.
The final segment, “In a Twinkling,” focuses on a man who claims he likes to spend the holiday alone, only for his girlfriend to insist on keeping him company. This will be a decision they both regret, as we discover the man keeps to himself because he annually has some uninvited, otherworldy visitors. Mostly feeling like an episode of The Twilight Zone, there are some cool ideas in this segment about a man who just accepts the bizarre events he endures every year, yet we’re left wishing that this story was fleshed out a bit more. Had this segment been a bit longer, say the length of an actual Twilight Zone episode, we could have been given a more fulfilling story, but I appreciated the homage and everything the segment was going for.
But wait, there’s a wraparound story! The framing device used to tell all these vignettes is that two people who are alone on Christmas would rather spend it together, so they decide to go see a play where all of the above stories are being acted out in front of them. The framing device reminded me of something like V/H/S, but the live theater felt like an interesting twist and something I hadn’t seen before. So that’s good! The reveal at the end of the wraparound and the reason why these two were on a date in the first place might not be entirely exceptional, yet the balance between serving merely as a setup for the vignettes and actually delivering an entire storyline was effective, so there’s that, at least.
As previously mentioned, the film was written and directed by Rebekah and David Ian McKendry, which helps lend a consistency to the entire endeavor. While many other contemporary anthologies offer multiple filmmaking teams, All the Creatures Were Stirring remains steadfast in its quality and style. On the one hand, we aren’t forced to sit through any flat-out turds by a director trying to make a “statement,” though, on the other hand, there’s nothing that really makes any segment stand out from the rest, other than the different narratives. If you like one, you’ll probably like them all, but if you don’t connect with one, that’s a trend that’s sure to continue.
As far as how the film ranks as a holiday horror film, there’s much to be desired when it comes to the connections to the actual holiday. We’ve seen enough Christmas horror movies by now to have covered virtually all of the obvious angles, forcing All the Creatures to think outside the box. The tenuous connection to the spirit of the season might frustrate some looking to get excited for the holidays, in conjunction with the film having seemingly been shot in California so it doesn’t even look like “Christmas,” might disappoint some viewers.
So where does that leave us? All the Creatures Were Stirring delivers some scares and some laughs, yet leaves us wishing there were a lot more of both. There are definitely some clever interpretations of holiday horror, yet much of the rest of the film felt like filler. Also, there’s a lot of really great people in it, which works as a double-edged sword, both causing excitement when we see them on screen and frustration that they weren’t given stronger material to work with. The anthology might not be for me, but I’m sure as hell happy it exists.
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