Genre: Horror, Comedy
Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania Lavie Owen, Krista Stadler
Release Date: December 4th, 2015
From its opening moments, pharmacy Krampus reveals itself to be a different type of Christmas movie. As the film opens, audiences witness some of the most unpleasant aspects of the holiday season including unruly families scrambling for last-minute gifts and children crying because they are afraid of Santa Clause.
In his own cynical family, Max (Emjay Anthony), a young preteen who wants to believe in the holiday, is surrounded by anger and frustration — a painful environment that ultimately destroys his holiday spirit and any hope that the family might have had of having a decent holiday. When he gives up on Christmas, an evil creature arrives in the neighborhood to wreak havoc on his family.
That creature is Krampus, the anti-Santa Claus monster who may resemble Santa from a distance but who acts as the antithesis of him. According to National Geographic, this figure of folklore “was created as a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas, who rewarded children with sweets. Krampus, in contrast, would swat ‘wicked’ children and take them away to his lair.”
Before Krampus’ arrival in the film, director Michael Dougherty presents Max’s idyllic family home, where he is surrounded by kind-hearted parents named Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) and a now-preoccupied sister named Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), and his quiet but kind-hearted grandmother, Omi (Krista Stadler) . Then the extended family arrives.
David Koechner and Allison Tolman co-star as the relatives who come in, brandishing insults and hate alongside three obnoxious grown children and their newborn baby . The couple arrive with Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), a heartless relative who has never met a smile she didn’t want to destroy.
Within minutes of meeting the extended family, it’s easy to hate them. The script — written by Todd Casery, Zach Shields and Dougherty — quickly establishes the heroes and the villains here but does it in a way that should remind audience members of their most antagonizing holidays. From unnecessary political talk to cooking criticisms to bullies trying to wipe away the idealism of Santa, the script fiercely establishes its naughty or nice list so that when the horrors do arrive — and they do — audiences are ready for Krampus and his merry band of pranksters.
When the scares do arrive, what keeps this film boisterous and fun is a wicked playfulness that creeps into nearly every scene of horror and fear. Wisely opting against relying on jump scares, the director establishes fear by isolating this family in a house that’s surrounded by blizzard-type conditions and creatures sneaking around the streets. One by one, the creatures do attack but even in the midst of the horrors, there’s a great sense of comedy that makes this film laugh-out-loud funny.
Underneath it all is a message undeniably but the film has so many wicked and outrageous tricks up its sleeve that this never becomes a message movie. The film simply packs a punch to the audience, creating one outlandish situation after another and daring audiences to feel sympathetic towards horrendous family members that seemingly only care for themselves.
The creatures that attack here are quirky and funny-looking but director Dougherty knows how to turn a seemingly innocuous object — a jack-in-the-box or a gingerbread man — into a fiendish tool of Krampus. Krampus is not for the faint of heart or for the audience looking for a feel-good holiday movie. It’s for those looking for a few good scares this holiday season and for a scary movie that embraces its concept and does it deliciously well.
Review by: John Hanlon