Starring: Adam Scott, Tomi Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell
Directed by: Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat)
Synopsis: Young boy is sad around Christmas because his hick family are, well, rude hicks, and loses faith in Christmas and in doing so unleashes The Krampus—basically the anti-Santa who terrorizes the wicked during yuletide.
What Works: Dougherty does a bang-up job in getting the right tone and mood for a Christmas horror movie. It’s a good mix of scares and light-hearted black comedy. The film begins with Bing Crosby’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” to a montage of Black Friday-like pandemonium with shoppers fighting for items and kids being brats and every other ugly-side cliche of consumers during the season of giving. It sets the film up perfectly for the point of the film and for what to expect. That and there’s a monster Santa terrorizing a neighborhood with Christmas-themed minions assisting him. But more on that soon.
The movie only centers on this one family and it’s a typical American dysfunctional family. The main family is Adam Scott and Toni Collete’s well-do-do upscale family with young Max, the kid who still believes in Santa. Scott’s mother is a kindly German lady who fosters the belief of Christmas, especially to Max. Collette’s sister’s family is visiting for the holidays and they are country bumpkins, who love football and sports, guns, hunting and large gas-guzzling vehicles and along for the ride is the alcoholic uncouth Aunt Dorothy. So the two families really don’t mix as you can imagine. Perfect analogy for modern America in general. In a typical fun-family-friendly Christmas movie, they would all learn to get along in the spirit of the holidays. Kinda like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Expect the twist is, that since this family is so split and at odds with each other, this causes the Krampus to appear to wreck havoc on them. Scott and Koechner play with their common types in the movies and TV shows you’re used to them playing in and they do a fine job—nothing extraordinary. Actually, I usually can’t stand Adam Scott’s typical ne’er-do-well, aloof personality like in Parks and Rec but here he’s not bad and actually acts well in a crisis situation. The real stand-out is Aunt Dorothy, played by Conchata Ferrell who’s basically a “say-it-like-it-is” devil-may-care alky redneck. I also liked the German grandmother who was the complete opposite of Aunt Dorothy. My only question was why did she mostly speak German to her own family? Both Scott and Max can understand her but they only mostly speak English back to her. Kinda weird. We learn later that she speaks fluent English so this only confuses matters more.
Speaking of speaking English, Grandma Deutschland has a moment where she explains the legend of the Krampus and her story involving it killing her family. The whole flashback is shown in a very well designed claymation that fits perfectly with any old Rankin/Bass animated special. That was a nice touch.
The Krampus and his minions are what you really care about in a movie like this though and they are done very well also. There’s three Gremlin-like gingerbread men, a teddy bear, a toy robot, a demonic angel and some sort of Jack-in-the-box monster. There’s also creepy “elves” that wear scary plastic masks. And the Krampus himself who is almost like a minotaur with hooves and goat horns. The interesting thing about his design was that he wears the same kind of coat that Santa wears and even has a white beard but he, too, is wearing some sort of mask. Whether this was for the filmmakers to give the audience a chance to use our own imagination to what’s behind the mask or that they just assumed the mask was creepier is up to debate. Frankly, I would’ve loved to have seen a take on the classic European folklore look of what a Krampus is described by. But overall, he looked fine.
What Doesn’t Work: Speaking of the Krampus though, he really didn’t do much and is hardly shown in the film. His minions do most of the terrorizing, kidnapping and killing. I was hoping that this would be like a Jaws-like horror movie where the Krampus is gobbling up victims one-by-one. The addition of the minions was a cute idea but ultimately it diminished the force of the Krampus entirely. And cute idea is not what I want in a horror movie. The gingerbread men especially with their squeaky voices. I know the tone of this film was light-hearted horror and yes it succeeds in that area but I would’ve preferred more Krampus screen-time.
Also, the film kind of has some pacing issues. After the first attacks the family shelters and shutters themselves in the house and the film kind of drags for too long. And then when they “hear noises” upstairs they very slowly investigate and this too could’ve been done at a better quicker pace.
I also felt like the movie was gong somewhere with the family not getting along and had to get through their differences to defeat the Krampus by the finale but that more or less fizzled out mid-way through. Koechner and Scott had some decent things to say to each other and saw past their differences a little but ultimately this theme didn’t much matter at all. AT ALL!
Overall: It’s been many years since I last seen Dougherty’s Halloween anthology, Trick ‘r Treat but I remember it being very well made. Not the best collection of scary stories but well made and entertaining enough. I liked Krampus better mainly because of the cast and the horror aspect for this particular season. However, the more I think about it, this film’s message is kind of convoluted and not so successful. Max, like his grandmother before him, is the cause of murder and mayhem when he rips up his letter to Santa and throws it out the window because he doesn’t believe in Santa anymore because his cousins humiliated him during dinner. The film wants us to know that the spirit of Christmas is about family, love, acceptance and forgiveness but there was never any resolution to this by the film’s finale. SPOILER ALERT: Max, being the last survivor of the Krampus, like his grandmother, is left alive because of his/her misdeeds. Max tries to fight the Krampus and demand his family back only to be thrown into the abyss (or hell) by the Krampus to wake up suddenly on Christmas morning. The film wants us to believe that the whole night of mayhem was just a parabolic dream of Max’s to illustrate the film’s theme. Max joins the whole happy family in opening up gifts and Max has now learned “his lesson” about loving his dysfunctional family but then we learn that it wasn’t a dream after all and they are all trapped in a snowglobe in the Krampus’ “workshop” in hell or wherever. I’m not sure what the film was going for with this twist ending. Perhaps it was a way to show that the family really does have a second chance and has to prove it to the Krampus or the filmmakers just like to mess with the audiences’ expectations in holiday finales. I actually liked the “it was all a dream” ending by itself because 1. the confrontation ending with Max vs. the Krampus was really lame and 2. the whole point of Christmas movies is to tell a redemption story (like Scrooge or George Bailey) and showing Max the true meaning of the season. Making Max and family still trapped negates that redemption and just makes this movie a horror movie only.
However, this is a great holiday movie anyway and evokes the Christmas theme and spirit perfectly and fits nicely with other great Christmas themed movies, and is a good antithesis to all the other family-friendly fare. It was no accident that I watched this today, as tonight is Krampusnacht. I could easily watch this every December 5th in spirit of the season.
Score: 7 Years Old is Kinda Past the Point to be Still Believing in Santa, isn’t it? (out of 10)