Synopsis: When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers.
All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.
Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Adam Scott (TV’s Parks and Recreation), Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), Allison Tolman (TV’s Fargo) and David Koechner (Anchorman), this is a wonderfully dark and subversive film.
eyelights: its solid build. its blend of dark humour and suspense. its cast. its insane creatures. Douglas Pipes’ deliciously twisted score.
eyesores: its limited true thrills.
“It’s Christmas. Nothing bad is going to happen on Christmas!”
Krampus? WTF is a “Krampus”?
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to think of ‘Krampus’ when it came out in 2015. I mean, it was clearly a Christmas-themed movie, and it certainly seemed at least tangentially spooky, but what the heck was a “Krampus”? I’d never heard of such a thing before, so it wasn’t exactly enough to draw me out to the cinema – despite decent reviews and box office earnings.
But I looked it up.
Well, it’s no wonder I’d never heard of a “Krampus” before: it’s an Austrian mythological creature that is essentially the antithesis of Santa Claus – where Santa treats children who have been good, Krampus punishes those who have been bad. He looks very similar to some depictions of Satan, what with his horns, hooves and tail – though he’s black or brown instead.
The Krampus in this film, however, is more of a bastardization of Santa: though he has large horns, his grotesque, hunched body is mostly concealed in a large, hooded, fur-lined red coat that’s covered in chains and ornaments. He’s the Santa Claus from your nightmares, the equivalent of the malevolent, creepy Pennywise to your average, goofy -but harmless- clown.
Except that Krampus has a playful nature.
Writer-Director Michael Dougherty, the man behind the devilishly mischievous ‘Trick ‘r Treat‘, wanted his Krampus to see the proceedings as a game – so he sends lethal creatures that look like a gingerbread man, a teddy bear, or even a large jack-in-the-box, after his prey. He even puts up scary snowmen outside of their homes, one at a time, until a horde encircles them.
But what brings out the Krampus? In here, it’s the demise of the Christmas spirit: after Max, the only member of his family who still truly believes in Christmas, gets into a fight with his cousins and becomes disheartened by it all, the power cuts out, the neighbourhood become unusually tranquil, and strange things start to happen around their house.
For me the opening salvo is the highlight and pretty much encapsulates the film’s message: over the mellifluous sounds of Bing Crosby’s “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”, we see people rampaging into a large department store, struggling, fighting, …etc. It shows us the worst aspect of the holiday season: the vulgarity of shopping in lieu of warmth and meaning.
It’s a very cynical opening, but its intention is abundantly clear.
After the requisite familial tensions and the arrival of the Krampus, the rest of the picture is more of a tale of survival: the family, mostly confined to their home (the few who dare venture out face dire consequences – like death by toybox), have to stop intruders from coming down their chimney. But little do they know what’s waiting for them beneath the tree…
What’s terrific about ‘Krampus’ is that it takes itself seriously enough that it doesn’t fall into camp – you can actually immerse yourself in the spooky atmosphere that Dougherty creates. But he tapers it with a lot of dark humour, which makes it a real hoot. Further to that, though there’s plenty of action, he chose not to make it excessively gory, keeping it at a PG-13.
The cast plays it completely straight, so while they allow the humour to rise to the surface, we can easily imagine them as real people – enough so that the dangers they face build up the tension. And when the Krampus shows up, by far the second best part of the film, he becomes a boogeyman made flesh – the worst thing that you could imagine happening on Christmas Day.
‘Krampus’ is hardly as perfect movie. It does follow a formula and throws in a couple of all-too-familiar pieces that may feel unoriginal to some. But it’s all put together with such conviction and craft that it ends up being a blast. And though the ending is a bit cryptic, ‘Krampus’ makes for a chillingly good piece of counterprogramming to ” and ‘Home Alone‘.
But, come to think of it, you have to wonder if watching ‘Krampus’ wouldn’t indict you in Santa’s eyes – and send the Krampus after you.
You might want to rethink that.
Date of viewing: November 12, 2016