A seasonal horror comedy , Krampus provides a respite from the overly cheesy and schmaltzy stuff that gets dished out this time of year. Not perfect by any means, but very fun and creepy enough, with a good message at the core, Krampus is a dark Christmas delight.
It’s just before Christmas for one family and it’s going to be one to remember. Young Max(Emjay Anthony)still believes in the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus, though he’s struggling with the knowledge that he’s going to have to endure the dysfunction of his extended family over the holidays . His parents, Tom(Adam Scott) and Sarah(Toni Collette) are good people who work hard and do their best and even they are sort of dreading this family get together at Christmas as they believe they know the outcome. Arriving at their house for the holidays are gun-toting arrogant spitting Uncle Howard(David Koechner) , his put upon wife Linda(Allison Tolman), their four kids, and drunken, foul mouthed Great Aunt Dorothy(Conchata Ferrell) . Also in this family are Max’s sullen sister Beth(Stefania LaVie Owen)and the knowing Eastern European mother of Tom, referred to as Omi(Krista Stadler). Tensions rise over dinner when the bratty, nasty children of Howard and Linda read aloud Max’s letter to Santa Claus. Feeling embarrassed and that everyone has lost their spirit, Max renounces his joy at the holiday and storms off to his room. He tears up his letter and throws it into the wind. Quickly, a blizzard arrives and knocks the power out at the house and the entire neighbourhood. The squabbling family panic with what to do. Beth goes out to see if she can find her boyfriend who lives nearby, but she doesn’t return. This puts everyone into desperation as horror begins. are attacked while searching for people by a strange creature from underground, a mysterious sack of presents comes to life and there’s something sinister lurking in the attic. And to top it all off, a demonic being with hooves and horns seems to be controlling this. He is Krampus, a sort of anti-Santa who punished those who don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas. When , he inadvertently summoned the demon which is now enacting its brand of retribution to what he sees as ungrateful people. Now it’s a battle for survival as Krampus and his minions lay siege to the house and death begins to envelope the dysfunctional family inside. It may not be a Holly Jolly Christmas for all if they can’t make it through.
Michael Dougherty keeps the atmosphere building well and the humour present( watch for a hilarious opening sequence of frenzied shopping and scrapping between customers portrayed in slow motion to the sound of ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’) as we enter the story with a message of togetherness after much horror and how it’s navigated. Krampus isn’t necessarily insanely terrifying and bone chilling as it could be, but it’s undeniably tense and boasts a sprightly, creepy nastiness to it once chaos begins to rain down. The humour parts work, the characters are mainly archetypes but I think that is the main point of them as it adds a level of familiarity to the proceedings. The family in question actually learn quite a bit once they come under attack and Dougherty has a good understanding of this and the way that often in times of hardship or shock, pulling together is the only thing to do in order to make it out of the situation. Events are played lost entirely straight, which allows both the creep factor and underlying biting humour to nestle next to one another. Plus, I enjoyed the mythology surrounding Krampus( who can be discovered by looking up Ancient European folklore) where it stems from. From my research, it’s something very intriguing and the film fills us in too via Omi who recaps her own experience and it’s displayed quite strikingly in stop motion. This sequence took me by surprise and really made an impact on me, while also clueing the audience up on the scary creature that’s on screen.
And speaking of visual effects, the ones used in Krampus are a fine mix of practical and CGI, though the majority are practical and boast a certain old school appeal while being immensely creepy. There’s an army of viciously vindictive gingerbread men who take it upon themselves to terrorise eveyone, a spine tingling Jack in the box that boasts a multitude of fangs. Then of course there is the titular demon who we are wisely shown little of until near the end. A little sighting here and a bit of a reveal there is enough to keep us on the edge of our seats and entertained in this Christmas horror comedy. And for a film with bad 5ings happening, it’s refreshing to see that Krampus doesn’t really on blood and gore for chills. There’s hardly any blood to speak of, but that doesn’t mean that horrible things don’t happen in an atmosphere that grows more tense as it continues. The film does feel a bit stretched in its run time and parts of it sag for no apparent reason, this is especially present in the middle half which meanders. But the opening build up showing us just how dysfunctional this family is and the latter stages that show them truly understanding that their bickering actions have caused this horror, is very well executed and should be praised on that score alone while making up for the parts that don’t work. The ending is a divisive point which I won’t spoil. All I’ll say is that I’m on the fence regarding it and how it capped off Krampus. I’ve not made my mind up on whether I think it’s a satisfying and open ending or a cop out. Time will eventually tell no doubt I’m sure about that, but I feel like it’s growing on me as I write this review. A score of devilry and mischief compliments the film very well by being so strangely cheerful at the start then switching it up as horror engulfs.
A game cast is a big plus in Krampus. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are excellent as the stressed out parents who have to do battle with horror as they attempt to reconnect once more. It’s nice how they actually come across like genuine people too, instead of just overly cliched. Most of the characters in Krampus are by and large familiar but that doesn’t detract from what the cast does with them which is rather entertaining.Young Emjay Anthony stands out as the kid whose faith in the holiday is tested and whose actions accidentally lead to the arrival of Krampus. Anthony is a likeable kid and this transfers to us as we can sympathise with his feelings of alienation from family and how he just wants a nice Christmas. David Koechner gets a lot of the laughs as the boorish uncle who puts the red in redneck; though he comes in useful as the gravity of the situation hits home. He undergoes a convincing transformation as does Allison Tolman as his much neglected wife, evolving from doormat to fierce. Conchata Ferrell gets some of the best moments of the movie and the best lines. Playing the slovenly, trashy and acidic Aunt with a major attitude problem, Ferrell is evidently having a total blast. She’s both despicably funny and capable as the story intensifies, showing a strength that is unexpected but welcome. A quiet yet haunting presence is found in the hands of Krista Stadler. Essaying the part of the wise old Aunt who knows more than she’s initially letting on, her sagacity and eventual revelation about the creature allow her to really strut her acting stuff beautifully and have probably the most emotional arc of Krampus. Stefania LaVie Owen is saddled with an uninteresting role as eye rolling sister who goes into the blizzard and never comes back.
So while it’s got issues of its own that stop it from being truly excellent and a Christmas horror classic, Krampus should satisfy fans of horror comedy at Christmastime with its humour and dark chills. And I for one found it to be a surprise and mostly a positive one I must say.