Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Film Review: Krampus (2015)

© Universal Pictures International | Source: IGN
USA; 98 min.; horror, comedy
Director: Michaël Dougherty
Writing: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Cinematography: Jules O'Loughlin
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Maverick Flack, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel

“It's Christmas. Nothing bad is going to happen on Christmas.”  -- Linda
The fun and joy of St Nick's Day lies well behind us. This gives us time to dive deeper into a more sinister aspect of the Advent season. An old European myth tells of a hideous creature named Krampus, a demonic anti-Santa - half man, half goat -, who likes to punish those children who behaved badly throughout the year and are thus unworthy of Santa's gifts. 

In his new film, director Michael Dougherty takes the Krampus lore and turns it into an entertaining old-school horror experience. And while it is fun to watch Krampus and his evil little helpers wreak some havoc amongst a festive family gathering, the movie's underlying message to embrace the Christmas spirit and be thankful for what one has feels slightly force-fed. In the end, it's the overly serious tone that thwarts the film's potential to become a stand-out holiday classic. 

Dougherty's efforts to point out the corruption of Christmas work well in the very beginning, though. In a glorious slow motion opening montage, we see a bunch of people storm a store while "It's the most wonderful time of the year" is playing in the background. The people, however, fight for last-minute gifts, spend money sans end, shout at each other and wither away in holiday madness. Here, Christmas is a capitalist hell, and while the whole thing is hilarious to behold, it's also quite shocking in all its accuracy.

When, afterwards, the main protagonists are introduced, we know for sure that this Christmas will most likely be an exchange of menace and misgivings instead of joy and happiness. With liberals Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) and their two children facing the arrival of their gun-crazy, army-loving relatives Howard (David Koechner) and Linda (Allison Tolman) and their offspring, trouble is basically ready to happen. Tom and Sarah's son Max (Emjay Anthony) soon is fed-up with his gruff relatives and wishes his whole family gone, unaware that his impulsive plea summons Krampus. And the holiday demon is more than ready to haunt the family and ban each and every member to the underworld. 

What ensues is, on the one hand, a narrative in which the family finds itself up against mean-spirited gingerbread men, a ravenous Jack In The Box, a zombie teddy bear, a murderous puppet and a vicious toy robot. Those sequences are neither shocking nor particularly graphic, but rather deliciously silly and just fun to watch. Additionally, they bring out the strongest feature of the film: the engaging prop and costume design. All the deadly playthings are crafted with detail and care, the gingerbread men endowed with lovely animation and cute sound effects. The evil elves helping Krampus along the way wear beautifully creepy masks, and the demon himself is a towering, unpleasant presence. 

On the other hand, there is the emotional development from a broken family to a harmonious entity. Since Krampus is a Christmas movie, after all, this turn of events is to be expected. However, the respective changes feel so unnatural, so forced that they inspire some heavy eye-rolling rather than a heartwarming sensation. And once the family members begin to grow closer and find appreciation for each other, the enjoyable silliness begins to vanish into the background and sentimentality takes over. I personally would have preferred to see the film make more comedic use of the cliché-infested set-up and extend the general absurdity of it all. 

But don't get me wrong, Krampus certainly is a nice alternative to the usual lovey-dovey Christmas fare that enters cinemas every December. It's fun, nice to look at and creepy in a retro, Gremlins kind of way. Unfortunately, the film takes itself a tad too seriously and instead of going bonkers eventually goes back to lovey-dovey - not even the ambitious ending can change this impression. So, be careful, Mr. Dougherty, because, come next year, Krampus might want to punish you for telling his story in such a sentimental way... 


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