Not much is expected out of a December Christmas-themed horror release, compiling fears of rushed production and contemporary genre prejudice. From the opening minutes of Krampus – animalistic shoppers tearing apart their local superstore and each other before mindlessly handing over thousands of dollars in exchange for holiday goods – this existential portrait western consumerism threatens a heavy-handed tongue-and-cheek take on the shadow of St. Nick of German folklore. Thankfully, sophomore Director Michael Dougherty (penning the script with Todd Casey and Zach Shields) approaches gremlin-like gingerbread men, sinister snowmen, and other Christmas creatures with just as much realism as the haunted upper-class family and their trailer park in-laws perceives them to be: remarkably horrid.
Several days before the 25th, Tom (Adam Scott) and his wife Sarah (Toni Collette), even their teenage daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and tempered preteen son Max (Emjay Anthony), grudgingly await the arrival of their boorish Uncle Tom (David Koechner), his wife Linda (Allison Tolman), their trio of crude, butch children (Maverick Flack, Lolo Owen, and Queenie Samuel), and sourpuss Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). With every vulgar discussion of guns, and football, and overcooked turkey, and lousy décor, the Christmas spirit is drained until Max can’t stifle his noble frustration any longer. Max abandons the dinner table, runs to his room and sends his handwritten letter to Santa out the window in about a hundred pieces. Although his wishes for holiday don’t reach the North Pole, Max’s letter is read by someone, something, much darker as the gentry neighborhood is plunged into a blinding snowstorm with much more to fear than just the cold.
The easy route henceforth would exploit satisfaction in watching the purposely-profane relatives gruesomely fall victim to a collection of Christmas killers. However, where Krampus succeeds strongest is using the genre trope of unlikable characters to its thematic advantage. Bolstered by a realistically reactionary approach – lightened by the believably brash humor of Koechner’s character, though a completely straight edged Scott is a tad disappointing – a progressive feeling of previously unimaginable allies is refreshingly palpable, and fitting within the season of togetherness.
Though held in check by a more marketable PG-13 rating, Krampus’ league of hellish holiday haunters are imaginatively wild and meticulously rendered, even if a headache-inducing strobe eats up more screen time than we see the monsters do people. But visual kudos should also be rightly reserved for the sound and effects department—not to mention the culturally dark animated origin of Max’s grandmother’s (Krista Stadler) young encounter with Krampus. Layering the storm’s merciless howl and Krampus’ clanging chains amidst the claustrophobic blizzard, the enveloping whiteout manages to hold its own against this year’s Everest and Crimson Peak. Conversely, if our characters learned the true fate of their conditions as we learn in the film’s closing minutes it would have eased the pain of the cop-out and draw more attention to the excellent atmospheric effects.
Krampus receives 3.5/5