Directed by: Michael Dougherty || Produced by: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Michael Doughtery, Thomas Tull
Screenplay by: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields || Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchatta Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler
Music by: Douglas Pipes || Cinematography: Jules O’Loughlin || Edited by: John Axelrad || Country: United States || Language: English, German
Running Time: 98 minutes
I first caught wind of this movie in the previews of Eli Roth’s Green Inferno (2013). In this day and age, it’s rare not to stumble across even smaller films on the Internet first, but believe it or not, a theatrical trailer actually got me interested in a movie in 2015!
I was intrigued by the wacky, satirical, and subversive premise right from the get-go. For those of you who don’t know, Krampus is about the titular mythological figure from German-speaking Alpine folklore, who may or may not predate Medieval Judo-Christian culture and is said to be one of Saint Nicholas’ many companions or counterparts. Where as St. Nick/Santa Claus/insert-pagan-counterpart-here is a benevolent spiritual figure who rewards good behavior during the winter holidays, particularly that of children, Krampus comes to punish those who are bad, with retributions ranging from harsh spankings to kidnapping and consumption of said children. Yikes. He’s the shadow of Saint Nicholas, indeed.
Anyway, if you happened to have seen the lone trailer for this low-budget yet surprisingly wide-released feature, you know exactly what you’re getting without the whole story being spoiled for you. The film features a satirical, cynical, and incredibly blunt commentary on modern Christmas celebration, with the opening scene depicting a slow-motion montage of out-of-control shopping and Christmas capitalism run amok, tuned to the song, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas.” This hilarious opening transitions into our principal dysfunctional family, centering around the youngest child, Emjay Anthony, who is struggling to maintain his youthful optimism and Christmas spirit despite the incredible lack thereof around him. Things deteriorate when his extended family, led by David Koechner, arrive and the two groups clash, causing Anthony to lose hope completely. And then, of course, things get interesting.
While Krampus is very much a movie of two halves, its story retains sardonic thematic continuity throughout, and the narrative significance of its titular protagonist only strengthens when these two acts are juxtaposed. Krampus‘ opening act plays like a jarring, subversive commentary on modern Christmas commercialism, and its second act is full-on horror with frequent comic relief and a strong undercurrent of violent black comedy.
The story’s running theme of the loss of the Christmas spirit and the divine intervention (or punishment) that must occur as a result, holds the set-up and payoff together. The film’s narrtive transition is somewhat jarring, yes, but it fits together incredibly well in hindsight.
Moreover, I enjoyed many of the principle characters and related to most of them in some way. I liked Anthony and his parents, played by Adam Scott and Toni Collette, and even found their obnoxious relatives redeeming once the horror shit hit the comedy fan. Koechner is particularly funny, as is Conchata Ferrell. Sure, they’re all stereotypes for the most part, but again, this fits with the movie’s running parody on the modern, stereotypical American family and its abuse of the Christmas holiday. I found them all likable or relatable enough, and that alone puts this movie above the lion’s share of the horror and comedy genre right from the start.
To that end, the latter horror-part of the movie is very creative, both in terms of its scares, set-pieces, and special effects. Krampus features a ton of great visuals, ranging from deranged practical effects of demon Teddy bears and a man-eating Jack-in-the-Box to hauntingly beautiful snowy sets to tasteful (and brief!) digital effects of our main antagonist leaping across rooftops after his prey. Krampus feels like a nightmarish Disney fantasy, a horrific subversion of the classical Christmas movie, one whose story takes the haunting subtexts of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to their logical extremes. Sometimes, the best way to scare people stiff into the Christmas mood isn’t the threat of coal in their stockings…
For my part, I loved Krampus. Its satirical angle is fairly straightforward, and in my opinion that thematic bluntness works to its advantage. The magic is in the hilariously demented execution of all the scares and laughs within the script. Krampus portrays the worst-case scenario of the modern family’s Christmas anxieties, and then gives us a real reason to be anxious and scared out of our minds. The reasons it works is because of functional characters, a thematic efficiency and tonal range that emphasizes tone and dread over gore or jump-scares, and a fantastic visual style that delivers all its promised horrific goods. It’s everything I love in horror and much, much more. In other words, maybe it was worth it paying to see The Green Inferno, after all…
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Krampus rips, roars, and terrifies with darkly humorous family feuds and engaging fantasy-horror. Its antagonist and his minions live up to the hype, leaving you to sympathize with this motley crew of characters who are depicted as near monsters themselves at the beginning. Despite their stereotypes, Krampus‘ human characters make sense and some are even innocent and likable. I felt genuinely affected by Anthony’s moral dilemma.
— However… much of the cast remain caricatures unto their dying breaths, and few are terribly sympathetic at first glance. The ending may be too convenient, depending on one’s tastes.
—> HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
? You better not shout, you better not cry/You better not pout, I’m telling you why/Santa Claus is coming to town…. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake/he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake! 😀