Krampus (2015) / Comedy-Horror

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of horror violence/terror, language and some drug material
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Emjay Anthony, Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner. Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel
Director: Michael Dougherty
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Todd Casey

Review published December 3, 2015

Krampus 2015 Emjay AnthonyMichael Dougherty, director of the cult horror flick of 2007, Trick 'r Treat, returns to the genre to bring scares to yet another holiday in Krampus, which threatens to upend the generally benign season of gift-giving and family get-togethers around Christmas. It's a bit of a throwback to the kinds of family-skewed comedies and horror films we would get in the 1980s, Gremlins most notably, particularly in the way mayhem overtakes a quiet community, along with the dark comedy of A Christmas Story and the offbeat antics of the Griswolds in Christmas Vacation.

It's Christmas time for one particular family, which means yet another gathering at the home of workaholic Tom (Scott, Black Mass) and OCD Sarah (Collette, The Boxtrolls), and the rest of the dysfunctional unit for three claustrophobic days that mostly involve snippy complaining and petty squabbling.  Tom and Sarah's young son Max (Anthony, Insurgent), at perhaps the last age when Santa Claus might still be seemingly real idea, writes a letter to the mythical North Pole resident that relates his wish of Christmas with his family being "like it used to be."  However, when his letter is found by his bratty cousins and openly mocked, Max tears up his letter, and abandons his wishful beliefs, which inadvertently causes a chain of horrific events when Krampus, the evil shadow of Saint Nicholas who terrorizes the naughty children, arrives in the wake of a massive blizzard to put an end to the family bickering for good.

Dougherty starts off his film with the suggestion that something's changed about how the holidays are celebrated these days as compared to when he was growing up.  The opening montage, shown entirely in slow motion, shows the madhouse that occurs when people rush into a department store at a Black Friday sale event, trampling those who've fallen, getting in fistfights over sale items, getting tased by fed-up security guards, and racking up large credit card bills spurred by the need for rampant consumerism.  I'm not sure how it ties in with the rest of the film except to suggest that the spirit of Christmas seems to only exist for the young anymore, but it is a provocative opening, even if the humorous delivery isn't as robust as it could be. 

For the most part, the movie clips along as you'd expect. Despite a good cast, it's mostly par-for-the-course for its type, to the point where you'll be quite surprised to find an inspired story element or scene bubble up to the surface.  Perhaps the most notable is a childrens-story flashback sequence told with a stop-motion animated style in which the family matriarch, Omi, discusses her childhood experience in Germany with the Krampus when she too broke from the spirit of Christmas and wreaked havoc on those to whom she held most dear.  Interestingly, although the film is called Krampus, the titular horned-and-hooved nemesis isn't in the film as much as you'd think.  He's more of a ringleader than the front-line threat, as the family deals with less-powerful demonic minions, such as bad elves, possessed gifts come to life, and wicked gingerbread men.

Krampus is a demented take on Christmas, and sporadically fun along those lines, but it's too uneven in its tone to proclaim as something more than a passably entertaining film overall. It does hit an occasional prolonged groove that will have you think it's finally going to find the footing to get some momentum going that will allow it to soar to the finish line, and then it sputters back to its demonic characters run amok that aren't nearly as fun or entertaining as the human interactions with each other.  It's a horror film, more mildly unnerving than actually terrifying, and a comedy, more light in tone than actually funny.  It teases but never quite takes hold tonally, leaving you feeling like most of the toys you got at Christmas - fun as a diversion, but still leaving you wishing for something bigger and better to tide you over to next year.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo