Movie Review ~ Krampus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tollman, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Director: Michael Dougherty

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: ‘Tis the season to be merry, not scary, but don’t tell the makers of Krampus that.  In fact, try to put aside your notions of what a “holiday movie” is and hunker down with this chilly chiller that aims to give your yuletide some monster movie madness.  Part Gremlins, part National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Krampus may not be destined for a yearly Christmas watch but it’s still fine entertainment, a more than decent bit of counter-programming to more traditional festive choices.

Popular in Austrain folklore for hundreds of years, the Krampus is a massive goat-like creature that has a fondness for punishing bad boys and girls that are most certainly on Santa’s naughty list.  I’m a little surprised that it’s taken this long for Krampus to headline his own Hollywood film but time has shown that Christmas is one holiday that movie audiences don’t like to see sullied with blood and gore (unless it’s in a “respectable” Scorsese or Coppola picture).

Released so soon after Black Friday, the opening credits of Krampus elicit some knowing chuckles playing over a slo-mo scene of chaos with customers at MegaMart pushing each other down and climbing over employees to get the best deals. Overzealous deal seekers are tasered and beaten as ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ sweetly plays in the background.  This opening tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re watching and helps set the tone for what’s to come.

Pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony, The Jungle Book) just wants Christmas to be the way it was when he was younger, when his family spent more time together and everyone still believed in Santa Claus (ooops, spoiler alert?).  Nowadays, his sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) has better things to do and his parents (Adam Scott, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Toni Collette, The Way Way Back) have lost some of their spark.  With the arrival of his timid aunt (Allison Tollman) and obnoxious uncle (equally obnoxious David Koechner, Hit and Run), their brood of heinous hellions, and a boozy grump of an aunt (Conchata Ferrell, Erin Brockovich), things go from bad to worse when Max inadvertently conjures up our titular monster.  Arriving with a bitter snowstorm and a host of creepy creatures to do most of his dirty work, Krampus stalks the snowbound family now holed up in their house without power or heat.

Director Michael Dougherty made a slick little Halloween horror film in 2007 called Trick ‘r Treat, an anthology film heavy on atmosphere that’s earned a cult following over the years.  He works a similar magic with Krampus, turning a hectic Christmas family gathering into a fight for survival as one by one the relatives meet grim, yet not overly gruesome, ends.

Working within the confines of a PG-13 rating without pandering, the movie is low on grotesque gore, opting instead to focus its efforts on several nicely spooky sequences that mix impressive CGI seamlessly with practical effects. There’s even a clever nod to television holiday specials with an animated sequence accompanying Max’s Austrian grandmother’s (Krista Stadler) recounting her previous run-in with Krampus when she was a young girl.  Horror fans with a bloodlust should look elsewhere because there’s little to be found here.

Over time audiences have soundly rejected horror films like Silent Night, Deadly Night that set out to make Santa and the holiday itself something to fear.  That’s not the case with Krampus.  Dougherty actually is celebrating the time of year and lamenting the loss of tradition that heavy commercialism has been chipping away at.  There’s a good moral to the story and though it starts off tentative and takes a while to get going, it has a terrific final act.  At times I wanted the film to be more than it was, maybe a little scarier, maybe a little less on-the-nose in its observances…but it’s a pleasing diversion that tickles as much as it terrifies.

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