Posted by Holly
Director: Michael Dougherty
It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to warm up the fireplace, pour yourself a glass of eggnog, and stay in during the cold weather, enjoying some of your favorite holiday movies. Usually these holiday classics are more heartwarming fare, filled with hope and belief, with life affirming messages. Recently, comedies have started going the more cynical route, with more dysfunctional characters and relationships highlighted. Christmas horror films, however, have still been seemingly sparse.
Krampus, a film that is seeking an audience with both the cynical holiday crowd, as well as fans of the now-cult-favorite Christmas demon, is an attempt to give you a little bit of everything – with mixed results.
Krampus is the story of a family that is pushing its way through the general holiday dysfunctions to try their best and have a pleasant Christmas. Tom and Sarah are trying to keep things together while their children, Max and Beth, have their own concerns. Despite all of this, Max has a profound love and respect for the holiday, which he shares with his grandmother. Things are complicated when Sarah’s sister arrives with her family, and tensions rise. Angered by the actions of his family, Max defies his belief in Saint Nicholas and makes a wish – one he will soon come to regret.
This film isn’t bad – it’s actually quite entertaining while you’re watching it – but it doesn’t necessarily have enough of a consistent tone to carry it all the way through to the end. As a comedy-horror, you expect things to swing back and forth between creepy and funny, but the pendulum should generally not swing too far in one direction or the other. The film wasn’t effective enough in getting its intentions across, and so building any genuine tension was difficult – and it felt that the film relied almost exclusively on jump scares to compensate.
There are a few female characters of note here – one of which being Omi, the German grandmother, whose previous experience with Krampus lends the film an emotional poignancy it would otherwise not have had much of at all. This character brings an emotional weight to the film with her traumatic experiences that continue to haunt her and her loving relationship with her grandson, Max. There is a beautiful story surrounding her about carrying guilt with you, and the importance of holding onto your hope, that is ultimately subverted, but not given enough time to develop. This character wasn’t used to its full potential, and her confrontation with Krampus, while having the chance to be a climactic moment for the film, fell flat.
Sarah and Linda are the other two characters that deserve mention. They are sisters, and their relationship is shown to be strained as the film is establishing itself. The film doesn’t try to necessarily sustain or build upon that tension between them, but it does allow for a nice bit of reconnection when they bond over shared Christmas memories of their mother. This is another thread that fizzles out before it can go any further, giving you little reason to truly invest in these women as character. Unfortunately neither one of them are looked into much more than this, but to be fair, almost all of the characters suffer from this exact same lack of depth.
If you’re looking for something that’s funny and has a cynical attitude towards the holidays in general, then you’ll find some things to enjoy here, but nothing all that new. This lampoons frantic holiday shopping in a mostly unnecessary opening sequence, and continues with a series of jokes that ride on the shoulders of awkward family dynamics – another subject that’s been all but played out in holiday movies. Plenty of jokes about the stuffy suburban family having to deal with their uncultured, redneck relatives – it’s not really trying to be all that innovative. It isn’t until the mischievious little gingerbread men show their faces that I think the movie starts to have some real fun and find its groove.
Is the film scary? Not so much. It’s a horror film in the sense that it’s a creature feature with an underlying comic tone – more Gremlins than Black Christmas, basically. In the creature department, there were some great successes in making interesting designs come to life. The Jack in the Box monster was truly grotesque, and the snowmen were underutilized for how unsettling their presence was. The gingerbread men were delightful, though I don’t know if the intention was to make them as adorable as they were.
I’ll say that my biggest disappointment in this film was the ending, but this might only be a personal gripe of mine. There was a great opportunity to bring the story full circle, and end on a somewhat grim note, but it was avoided in favor of a strange “twist” ending.
Krampus isn’t adding much to the already-existing roster of horror films out there, but it is quite a fun ride to take while you’re there. And if you’re so inclined, I wouldn’t rule out breaking this one out on a future cold December evening, if you’re not feeling some of the more sappy film fare the holidays usually have to offer.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. Entertaining, but a little flat.
Violence level: Not too terribly bad. The kills are generally always done off-screen, or with some kind of discretion cutaway.
Scariness level: Low – the creatures are great fun, but nothing that will keep you up at night. Unless you’re really afraid of Jack in the boxes already, in which case, you might want to be wary.
Bechdel test: Sarah and Linda’s scene discussing their mother makes this pass if nothing else – and there are a few more scenes that push this through as well. It’s not a female focused story necessarily, but it doesn’t ignore their relationships.
Mako Mori test: Fails, the point of view character, and the only one who really has a narrative to follow is Max. Omi had the potential for one in which she comes to terms with her previous experience with Krampus, but I don’t think it’s present enough in the film to count.