A Creature Was Stirring has a few moments of strong ambition but unfortunately can’t detach from its weak screenplay and pacing.
Christmas is a time of joy and celebration for many. The bright lights, the beautiful trees and the presents we give and receive symbolise solidarity and warmth for the people we love around us. However, Christmas and the holiday season as a whole are not always welcomed with love. In fact, Christmas can be the very thing that causes great terror to those in its wake. Damien LeVeck’s A Creature Was Stirring is a Christmas horror story that places itself in one mysterious house during the most wonderful time of the year.
A Creature Was Stirring follows Faith (Chrissie Metz), a nurse and overprotective mother who keeps her teenage daughter Charm (Annalise Basso) locked away due to a mysterious illness. As Faith buries herself in a routine and gives numerous daily injections to her daughter to keep a dark figure at bay, their isolated life is challenged when two strangers (Scout Taylor-Compton and Connor Paolo) break into her home. Although the pair claim to only be seeking shelter from the harsh blizzard outside, they find themselves slowly becoming involved in a terrible secret during a cold Christmas night.
A Creature Was Stirring is the second feature film from Damien LeVeck after the 2020 film The Cleansing Hour. While his debut was certainly not without its faults, what immediately shined was LeVeck’s skill at creating a large-scale story from such a simple premise. While The Cleansing Hour focused more on our obsessions with social media through the lens of a procession story, A Creature Was Stirring is instead a Christmas tale that examines mental illness through the lens of a mother and daughter. Although LeVeck’s first film showed signs of strong potential for his next film, A Creature Was Stirring is unfortunately not quite the massively improving sophomore feature you’d hope to see.
Horror films have always been the metaphorical type but in the modern landscape, the metaphor has often taken center stage over the narrative. This unfortunately leads to more problems, as the idea of the metaphor can only last so long before finding itself trapped in a lack of any meaningful depth. A Creature Was Stirring has some intriguing ideas at play and a surprising fondness for adhering to an almost playlike structure where its vague attempts at naturalistic dialogue are key.
However, these ambitions far exceed the grasp that its screenplay from Shannon Wells allows. From the outset, the film’s dialogue feels incredibly stiff to the point of tedium. This especially shows in the relationship between Faith and her daughter. Although Annalise Basso gives a solid performance, her character is given next to nothing to work with other than being an angsty teenager. The chemistry between her and Faith never gets the chance to properly breathe beyond its initial tension and just leads to their characters (and by extension, the entire cast) lacking proper depth.
If A Creature Was Stirring shines at any moment, it’s when Damien LeVeck can truly demonstrate his skills at crafting stylistic horror visuals. Although the film suffers from the usual weak lighting we see all too often in the independent VOD space, LeVeck once again shows off his talents by creating a few effective images of terror that give the film a strong pulse at times. For all the mundane sequences of poorly written dialogue spoken by uninteresting characters, A Creature Was Stirring is at its strongest when allowing itself to be a horror film with all the gore and violence you’d come to expect. With strong practical effects and finely crafted spurts of tension, Damien LeVeck once again shows his genuine talent as a horror filmmaker even when the film around him struggles to keep up.
A Creature Was Stirring attempts to be this isolated Christmas tale while also demonstrating more surreal chops. In theory, the ambition here is welcomed. It’s clear that Damien LeVeck wants to spice up the film’s screenplay any chance he gets and while that occasionally shines through in some mildly effective horror sequences, we’re still mostly left with a film needing a hook. Many ideas are at play here from religion to the overprotective nature of parents. Still, these feel less like developed thematic tissue and more like window dressing to stretch the film out beyond its 90-minute runtime.
A Creature Was Stirring is far from the worst horror film you’ll see this year. Despite its issues, it’s a very competently made film on a technical level and for those interested in some gory practical effects, it’s even worth a strong recommendation. However, the poor screenplay unfortunately brings the film down massively and stops it from being the next Christmas horror classic. Damien LeVeck is an impressive director but hopefully, for his next film, the screenplay can keep up.
A Creature Was Stirring will be released in select US theaters on December 8, 2023 and on VOD on December 12.