(Originally Posted on December 04th, 2015)

Director: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler and Thor

Studio: Universal Pictures

Rated: PG

Running Time: 1 Hr, 38 Mins

Looking for something a bit different this Holiday movie season? Something other than the Oscar hopeful releases, the (so far) underwhelming tent-pole films and the Christmas themed fare? Well, if it’s a mindless diversion you need, you could do worse than the Christmas horror/comedy Krampus, where a dysfunctional family battles the spirit of Anti-Christmas. Yes, it’s nearly as crazy as it sounds and it is completely different from anything else you will see this holiday season. Maybe even the rest of the year.

Young Max’s (Emjay Anthony) holiday spirit is under siege. He is trying to hold onto the last few fragments of childhood Christmas magic but a cynical, consumerist culture is straining what grasp he has left. When his extended family arrives to spend Christmas at his house, the resulting frustration drives him to bitterly surrender the last of his Christmas faith. In the process he unwittingly summons Krampus, an ancient demon that has spent thousands of years visiting families at Yuletide, not to reward as Santa Claus does, but to punish and drag non-believers to the Underworld.

Max and his entire family soon find themselves isolated from the rest of the world by an unnatural blizzard while fighting Krampus and his horde of demons, who twist and pervert the most innocent and traditional Christmas symbols into instruments of murder. Not even Max’s wise “Omi” (grandmother), who had a brush with the demon lord in her youth, or the family dog are safe.

Krampus is an interesting exercise in movie reviewing. There’s really no acting or direction to break down. The cast is comprised almost exclusively of television veterans who appear handpicked for their ability to land the jokes that are peppered throughout the movie. Director Michael Dougherty does an adequate job of managing the camera during the suspense scenes and for the most part the story is pretty linear. Krampus does borrow some tropes from both old style slasher flicks and other Christmas comedies about dysfunctional families but does not really commit grand larceny. Much of what the movie does is decent but doesn’t really hit anything out of the park.

The special effects are not exactly new, though some of the visuals (particularly of Krampus himself) are pretty memorable and odds are you won’t look at a jack in the box the same way again. But there are two things that do stand out.

This isn’t the first movie to mine the mysterious pagan legend of Krampus (no one can really tell you what the legend’s origins are or how old it is, except that it likely pre-dates Christianity in Europe) or try to combine the horror genre with the Christmas one (Black Christmas), but it is the first one to use it’s premise to make a not-so-subtle commentary on the modern state of Christendom’s most cherished Holiday.

When a movie about Christmas opens with consumers fighting each other tooth and nail for discount DVD players and kitchen appliances, security guards gladly tazing unruly customers and children crying in the corner as the chaos stampedes around them while Christmas carols play in the background, you suspect it isn’t going to pull any satirical punches. Aside from the pretty accurate reproduction of Black Friday, Krampus makes a more intimate comment on western family life during the Season of Giving and Brotherly Love. It isn’t the culture of consumerism that kills Max’s faith, rather it’s his family that drives the final stake through his belief, triggering the events that end with the arrival of an ancient monster.

Krampus is described as the “shadow of St. Nicholas,” the opposite of the spirit of joy and giving. While Kris Kringle brings joy to the good kids the world over, Krampus mercilessly delivers punishment for the greedy, bad ones. Krampus is he spirit of discord and reckless malice, avarice and violence, intolerance and spite. In essence, Krampus is us and we are Krampus.

The ultimate irony is that Max is easily the best member of his dysfunctional family, putting others before himself in his letter to Santa and struggling to hold onto noble ideals, yet for a single pivotal moment his purity is twisted just enough by his family’s malicious failure to condemn them all. Krampus’ ending also deserves mention. At first it looks like it’s going to cheap out with a stale and disappointing resolution before taking a slightly unexpected twist. It offers perhaps the most unique look at Purgatory in recent movie memory.

Krampus will never be considered a great movie and it probably is not going to keep anyone awake, but it uses its premise to make a few valid statements about modern culture and the families that fill it, Christmas or not.

Shayne Kempton



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