Release: Friday, December 4, 2015
Written by: Michael Dougherty; Todd Casey; Zach Shields
Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Is Krampus the next Christmas classic? No, not by a long sleigh ride, but at least it offers some respite from the other bullshit holiday films we’re routinely forced to endure for the sake of good tidings and shameless studio profiteering.
Michael Dougherty’s subversive seasonal offering is best described as one-part wicked horror, and two-parts ruthlessly silly comedy. It introduces a mythical, quasi-Satanic creature famous in Austro-Bavarian folklore for representing the polar opposite of everything Father Christmas stands for. Krampus, a long-horned, long-tongued, hulking, cross-dressing nightmare is conjured by misbehaving children who no longer believe in the spirit of Christmas. Instead of giving gifts to Nice Boys and Nice Girls, he takes away something dear to those on the Naughty list.
This year is the year Max (Emjay Anthony) finally loses faith in Santa after being humiliated at the dinner table thanks to two of his miscreant cousins who, in an almost unbearably mean-spirited scene, make fun of the letter he planned to send to the North Pole. He shreds the note and tosses it out the window, and that night a fierce blizzard descends upon the town, burying the community in snow and knocking out the electricity. Max’s parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) and sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) will have to contend with keeping their rather obnoxious in-laws happy during the power out, while Max quietly switches into emo mode, wishing they would never share Christmas together again.
Krampus takes some time getting going, but to Dougherty’s credit the slow-burn set-up is justifiable as it allows us to get to know this family and at least try to build empathy for one side before all hell breaks loose. On one hand there’s Max’s immediate family, comfortable middle-class suburbanites. On the other, Howard (David Koechner) and his wife Linda (Allison Tolman) are Pittsburgh Steelers-worshipping, lower-middle class, gun-toting loudmouths who seemingly don’t know how to raise children in any way, shape or form.
If there is meant to be some commentary on the differences between social class status, Krampus doesn’t fully take advantage of it. The two halves of this family seem to exist as exaggerated versions of blue collar versus white collar lifestyles and perhaps it’s merely coincidental (or me reading into things too much) that Koechner, Tolman and Conchata Farrell, who plays the classic overbearing, alcoholic Aunt Dorothy, stand in stark contrast to the more financially secure Scott and Collette. And when Krampus comes a-knockin,’ he certainly doesn’t discriminate.
The real fun lies in the film’s latter half, wherein the titular creature starts to make its presence known. Dougherty and his special effects team impressively restrain themselves at first, parceling out only glimpses of the demonic beast in an effort to build suspense for a later grand reveal. (Or what we’re hoping to be a grand reveal.) As the situation becomes more desperate, we’re fed bits of backstory courtesy of the wizened old Omi (Krista Stadler), Tom’s Austrian mother, who has seen all of this before. Of course she has. Meanwhile Max tries to assuage his guilt by coming clean about what he did the night previous.
Krampus proves itself adept at balancing comedic and horror elements, deploying outrageous visuals — you’ll never look at Gingerbread men or Jack-in-the-Boxes the same way again — alongside moments of dread-inducing suspense. The beast himself may not factor in as much as many might assume he would given he bears the title of the film, but there’s no denying this anti-Santa earns his screen time. He makes for a satisfying monster, one that could just as easily manifest as a metaphor for the worst in all of us when it comes to our tendencies to want more given to us than what we give to others. (Naturally this doesn’t apply to me because I’m perfect.)
When it comes right down to it, Krampus offers more fun than it really ought to, blending larger themes of forgiveness and personal sacrifice with more acute notions like family togetherness and being thankful for living in a part of the world where it actually snows on Christmas. It may never amount to a holiday package that you can share with generations of family but it will probably make do until next Christmas when some other jaded filmmaker comes up with the next bright idea. (Please Santa, no — not a sequel.)
Recommendation: Highly entertaining diversion will appeal to viewers in search of an alternative to the typical Christmas movie and those who like their horrors served up with a heaping helping of outlandish comedy. A fun thrill ride but not much more.
Running Time: 98 mins.
Quoted: “. . . I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies.”
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