The wintry season brings with it the promise of gift giving, hordes of homemade delicacies, and generally warm and fuzzy sensations. This year comes a movie that would like to share the creepy side of the Christmas legend, the titular demon occasionally known as the shadow of Santa Claus, Krampus. The story opens on a wonderfully comedic montage in a typical big box store as consumerism mayhem reaches a violent fever pitch in stereotypical Black Friday style. From here until the end the message is clear to all who enter this tale, don’t let cynicism overwhelm you and make you lose hope, lest darker things come to bump in the night.
‘Krampus’ centers on the Engel family (I see what you did there writers) as they begrudgingly welcome the rest of their family into their home for the Holidays. Things go awry when young Max Engel’s letter to Santa is discovered by his country bumpkin cousins who proceed to make fun of him for his continued belief in the big guy. Max then goes to the dark side by dashing his hopes that this Christmas could be reminiscent of the good ole days by ripping up his letter and throwing it out the window. Thus summoning Krampus to befall the home in a malevolent blizzard.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, ‘Krampus’ succeeds on several fronts. Firstly the production should be praised for its use of practical effects. They offer a far more palpable approach to something that is clearly a lower budget film among such giants as the Marvel Machine and the pop culture phenomenon Star Wars, which we will all be obsessed with shortly. It is refreshing to see such a reliance on costumes, props, and prosthetics. Krampus in particular is always a powerful and creepy presence onscreen. Secondly, the cast all do serviceable performances while not going too over the top, here’s looking at you David Koechner! Adam Scott was a standout to me as he wasn’t playing his typical obnoxious foil in comedies such as ‘StepBrothers’. He really sold me as the father that truly cared despite life taking its toll on him, his family life, and his marriage. Toni Collette also helped the film to stand taller through her performance as well. The two matriarchs of the film, Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy & Krista Stadler as Omi Engel, have wildly different characters and performances, but they both add to the piece as comedic relief and emotional weight respectively.
My problem with Krampus is that while it is clearly inspired by such 1980’s horror comedies as ‘Gremlins’ and the like, the film does little more than dip its toes in those waters without delivering the extra punch of scary goodness that we all want. As a PG-13 rating the film gets away with some admittedly creepy sights and beats, but it doesn’t quite get to itch that particular scratch. Walking out of the film my first reaction was that if it had gone full ‘R’ with some over the top gore it might have sold me more as a Christmas-Horror flick, but as it stands it was more like a fun ‘What if?’ Christmas tale. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, just that it could have gone farther in the direction that it was headed. There was also too much reliance on Krampus’ minions over Krampus himself. He was a captivating presence every time he was onscreen, but his moments were too fleeting in my mind.
There’s also the issue that almost all of the characters are not terribly likable, thus the audience almost roots for Krampus in the end and we have little to no remorse over the carnage that ensues later. The notable exceptions being Max and his grandmother, Omi. There was a singular moment in which Omi, (remember, all the Engels are the good characters) tells Max that the belief in Santa Claus is not so much based on the details about the man himself, but rather what Santa Claus represents, hope, goodness, & the sacrifice of giving. In fact that last part leads me to my biggest issue with the film.
The ending of the film leaves something to be desired though. Especially with the ‘sacrifice of giving’ lesson that Omi introduced in the third act and follows through til the end. Does the ending undermine that lesson? As I see it, yes. The lesson might have been learned, but if there isn’t any staying power in a message, then what is the point? I suppose as a Christmas tale, as well as it being ‘Horror-inspired’, then it must end with those expected warm and fuzzy feelings. The ending simply felt too predictable and a bit lacking to me.
So, if you’re a fan of campy creature features, and don’t mind a Christmas twist, then you’ll likely find merit within ‘Krampus’. Happy Holidays readers!
Final Score: 3/5