Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Ashley Clements, Graham Skipper, Constance Wu, Alexander Ward, John Humphrey, Diva Zappa, Maria Olsen
Writers: Rebekah McKendry & David Ian McKendry
Directors: David Ian McKendry & Rebekah McKendry
Distributor: ELJ Entertainment
Release Date (streaming and home video): December 4, 2018

ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING is a new entry in the sizeable subgenre of Christmas horror anthologies. What’s different here from most horror omnibus films is that all the segments, along with the framing device, are directed by the same two filmmakers, Rebekah McKendry and David Ian McKendry. Although the credits list a number of different sources for the individual segments, the McKendrys also wrote the screenplay.

ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING is not only the name of the movie, it’s also the title of a very low-budget play in a small theatre in Los Angeles. Max (Graham Skipper) has invited Jenna (Ashley Clements) to accompany him to a Christmas Eve performance, seeing that they’re both holiday “orphans” with no other plans.

The theatre turns out to be a black box, so-called for the type of performance space that’s got black-painted walls and isn’t much larger than a box. The production of ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING is a series of vignettes with titles like “Dash Away All,” wordlessly introduced by a woman (Maria Olsen) made up like a Tenniel drawing from ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and performed by three actors (John Humphrey, Alexander Ward, Diva Zappa). The movie cuts away to provide fully-produced, in-color, on-location stories, then shows us the ends of the segments back on the stage.

Subject matter within the shorts includes a grim office Christmas party, a fellow who is so stressed by last-minute shopping that he locks his keys and phone in his car, a riff on “A Christmas Carol,” the aforesaid super-cheapie, and a very technically sophisticated TWILIGHT ZONE-style riff, featuring a perhaps pre-FRESH OFF THE BOAT Constance Wu as a reasonable woman who gets caught up in her boyfriend’s weird Christmas-related problems.

The parts of ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING that are both most unnerving and most inventive are the framing device. The date between Jenna and Max becomes progressively creepier as the evening goes on. Meanwhile, we’re invited to imagine what the rest of the stage performances look like, which is conceptually very funny. The short segments all pretty much seem to defy three-person mime interpretation, no matter how expressive the props. In one instance, the no-budget stage version is more graphic than the film short, which provides a good punch-line (even though the specific short itself is lacking).

Oddly, even though the same writer/director team is responsible for the entire film, ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING doesn’t feel especially cohesive. The quality of storytelling, scares and acting varies from piece to piece, and the jokes are likewise sometimes humorous, sometimes flat.

The filmmakers are certainly onto something with the unease factor of a black box performance space. Los Angeles residents who have been to some of the more outrageous experimental work presented there can attest to the fact that some of it is so strange, it might as well be supernatural. This is an atmosphere that ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING conjures with conviction.

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