There are movies and then there are film festival movies.
Yes, those are technically the same thing. Both have moving images and sound projected onto a screen. Both have plots and actors and directors and a whole slew of crewmembers and producers running down the dream of artistic glory or, at the very least, a credit to put on a resume. However, as anyone who’s attended a regional film festival, such as the Tallgrass Film Festival that takes place right here in my backyard, can tell you, not every movie is destined to be seen by anyone other than festival audiences, who are generally far more forgiving of pieces of work which were clearly made for no money but might display some real promise.
All the Creatures Were Stirring, a new horror anthology from co-directors/writers Rebekah McKendry (of Fangoria/USC Film School/Shock Waves podcast fame) and David Ian McKendry, is a film festival movie in every way other than the fact that it actually scored distribution, ending up on Shudder. Other than Constance Wu and Jonathan Kite, both of whom have been regulars on broadcast network sitcoms, and maybe Graham Skipper, a horror movie regular and occasional writer-director himself, you probably won’t recognize anyone in the cast. That might be because a lot of them seem to just be friends of the production pitching in or horror genre day players, and the performances are often quite spotty. A couple of the story ideas have a faint spark of genius to them, others not so much, but they are all clearly hampered by a lack of resources.
The premise: A couple on an awkward Christmas Eve date take in a kind of performance art show at a theater. As three black-clad, blank-faced actors take the stage, we cut to one short movie after another to represent the horror scenarios the performers are apparently acting out for a disinterested, quickly dwindling audience.
It’s a very LA or New York kind of premise, the type of thing only people with friends who’ve invited them to regrettable stage shows will fully appreciate. In truth, they could have just dropped this particular framing device and not missed much.
Either way, the McKendry’s get to string together a bunch of short movies which are often only tangentially Christmas-related and mostly serve as excuses to experiment with horror subgenres. There’s Saw meets The Office/24 in one movie. There’s a retelling of A Christmas Carol in which the Scrooge of the story gets a belly full of rats. Constance Wu pops in a finale which transports two Christmas celebrators back into a black & white TV movie in which their friends have clearly been replaced by aliens (odd that no one actually notices they are suddenly in black & white). Easily my favorite of the bunch, though, involves a vengeful reindeer with his own killer POV, a sentence I never knew I always wanted to be able to write.
But, most of the segments are disappointing in their own way, either be it due to predictability, rushed endings, far too much narrative convenience, rather janky effects, or just generally amateurish filmmaking.
Still, I admire All the Creatures Were Stirring because, dammit, they actually went out and made a movie while holding down other jobs and, in Rebekah McKendry’s case, going through a pregnancy. Its current elevated profile as a heavily promoted Shudder Original which happens to co-star the Crazy Rich Asians lady probably isn’t doing the film any favors because this is so clearly a no-budget affair not quite meant for mass consumption.
My favorite part of All the Creatures Were Stirring, then, isn’t the film itself or one of its individual segments, but instead a great behind the scenes guerrilla filmmaking story the producer Morgan Peter Brown recently shared:
In the second segment, a last minute Christmas shopper accidentally locks his keys in his car and has to rely on the kindness of two mysterious ladies in a rather familiar-looking van. It’s familiar because it’s actually the van from Ant-Man:
The All the Creatures Were Stirring team jumped at the chance to rent the van for their movie, but the company which owns it charges a base rental fee, an additional fee for how many miles you drive the vehicle on screen, and two equal transportation fees, both for the drive to the set and back. Paying all of that would have bankrupted them, but they really wanted the van. So, producer Brown simply used his AAA card to have the van hauled there and back for free. Luckily for him, AAA didn’t ask any questions.
But, if I’m closing a review dishing about a fun behind the scenes story and complimenting the filmmakers for actually finishing their movie I’m clearly trying to be nice. That’s because I’ve actually met Rebekah McKendry before at a convention, and she’s completely delightful. Her Shock Waves podcast, co-hosted with three other horror fans-turned-producers/teachers, is indispensable to my ongoing horror movie education. As such, I so desperately wanted to like this movie. The best I can say about it, though, is at least one of these segments has a cool enough idea that I could easily see it someday becoming a feature-length movie of its own. If that happens, God, I hope she gets way more money to pull it off.
What about you? Where’s your take on All the Creatures Were Stirring? Let’s hear it down below in the comments. Or are you choosing to do stay away after reading this review?