For those who celebrate the holiday season, one can become jaded with the barrage of old Christmas favorites in entertainment. Countless horror films play on this festive time of year like visions of blood-drenched sugar plums. From the seminal original Black Christmas to the surprising parable Christmas Evil and all the films featuring Krampus to the ludicrously fun Jack Frost, there’s no shortage of Yuletide frights. Shimmying down your chimney this year is screenwriter Shannon Wells and director Damien Leveck’s A Creature Was Stirring. The filmmakers twist out the goodwill toward men, leaving only the pulp of blood, addiction, shattered lives, and murder by quills. Imagine Crossed by Garth Innis merging with your holiday turkey.
Nurse Faith (Chrissy Metz) keeps her troubled comic-drawing daughter, Charm (Annalise Basso), away from society and on pills. Faith believes that her daughter has seizures and turns into a beast when her temperature gets too hot or cold. One night, two burglars (Scout Taylor-Compton and Connor Paolo) attempt to rob the home on Christmas. Unbeknownst to them, the thieves’ intrusion unlocks a long-kept family secret, and a monster rears up to pursue the two home invaders. Drugs of a questionable high-risk lifestyle figure into the story as Faith’s background holds the key to what will happen.
“…the thieves’ intrusion unlocks a long-kept family secret, and a monster rears up to pursue the two…”
A Creature Was Stirring is lit and photographed with panel framing, bright neon colors, and dark reds, recalling the look of the Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy did this stylized approach quite successfully before. Being somewhat of a comic guy, I was also reminded of the Green Lantern series, specifically their take on responsibility. Faith admits to making bad choices before her daughter was born and some afterward. This makes things feel off. Even Taylor-Compton and Paolo are odd in that they are too nice to be robbers. Yet they engage in disastrous debates about religion with Faith and her daughter. This all adds to a feeling that all is not right, or even real and that something is hiding in the shadows. The payoff, full of blood and guts, lets you know that this is not a simple creature feature.
The cast works well within the framework of the ensemble. Metz and Basso play off each other naturally in their scenes together. They deliver tenderness, barbarism, and vicious diatribes to each other with cynical venom. A Creature Was Stirring is not a revenge story nor an attack on the power of the spirit. It examines human frailty and how a secret consumes a mind, a suitcase, and life.