Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania Lavie Owen, Krista Stadler
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins
Rating: PG13 (Frightening Scenes)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.krampusthefilm.com
Opening Day: 3 December 2015
Synopsis: When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive
Give credit to writer/ director Michael Dougherty for attempting a different breed of Christmas movie apart from the usual shtick of an extended family which puts aside its differences to come together in the spirit of the season. On the contrary, the particular household at the heart of ‘Krampus’ is, as a result of its dysfunctionality, visited by no less than demented little gingerbread men, ferocious teddy bears, terrifying Christmas clowns, evil elves and the titular horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes those that have lost the Christmas spirit. Oh yes, though it may appear hooded like it were wearing a Santa hat, Krampus is no jolly old Saint Nicholas, but his very shadow – darker, more ancient and even more powerful.
But to set the stage for Krampus’ grand appearance, Dougherty spends a good half hour detailing the acrimony between the Engel family from the point of view of the young boy Max (Emjay Anthony). His parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), seem to have fallen out of love with each other of late, and his older sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) whom he used to hang out with now prefers to spend her time with her boyfriend who lives four blocks down from their house. Each Christmas sees their churlish Uncle Howard (David Koechner), Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman) and their intimidating twin girl cousins come to visit, a tradition not cherished but dreaded.
Worse still, Aunt Linda has this year inadvertently brought along an even more annoying relative Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), who lives in a trailer park and whom Sarah makes a deliberate point not to visit. It’s a full house to say the very least, the meekest addition of all Max’s German-speaking grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) – and in case you’re wondering, the old legend originated from German Alpine folklore, which is also how Omi gets the honours of explaining just who Krampus is to the rest of her uninitiated descendants. In fact, as the night wears on, Grandma Omi will reveal in a stop-motion flashback that she was ever visited by the feared creature as a young girl, who had taken her parents but spared her many, many years ago.
At first, Max clings to hope that things in the family will get better this Christmas – that is, until his tomboyish twin cousins steal a letter he had addressed to Santa and embarrass him in front of everyone else at the dinner table. In sheer exasperation, he tears up the letter and declares that he has given up on Christmas, a proclamation that becomes an invitation for Krampus and his malevolent brood to come a-knocking as the sky turns black and a massive snowstorm besets their suburban neighbourhood. With the power out and no cellphone reception, a worried Beth gets her parents’ permission to pay a visit to her boyfriend to see if he is ok, and her subsequent disappearance sets off a chain of events that will bring the entire clan face-to-face with the beast.
As you may expect, Dougherty keeps the hooved creature in hiding until the last third of the film – and let’s just say that when he is unveiled in his full glory, it isn’t a pretty sight. In fact, none of the other mythical creatures are any less grotesque, and if every one of them appears vulgar, that is likely the very intent. There is nothing pretty about Krampus or his minions, nor for that matter do they have any other purpose than to instil fear and inflict pain – that explains why Sarah is beset by a demonic looking doll looking to chew her face off, while Howard is attacked by three vile little gingerbread men armed with a nail gun. The fact that Dougherty has kept the creature effects visibly crude is also tacit homage to its genre predecessors, most notably another Christmas-themed horror called ‘Gremlins’.
It is in that same spirit of wicked fun that Dougherty has crafted his freak show, and there are more than a couple of standout moments that will have you cheering in glee – among them, a couple contributed by no less than Howard’s seemingly timid bulldog as well as the self-deprecating Aunt Dorothy. A somewhat messy finale aside, Dougherty deserves mention too for not resorting to the typical cop-out of a happily-ever-after ending – as much as some of the concluding scenes seem to give that impression – and sticking instead to his appreciably darker and ostensibly less sentimental vision of a Christmas (cautionary) tale. That consistency is in turn reciprocated by uniformly sharp performances by his ensemble cast, who play out their roles with dry wit and just the right hint of self-awareness.
If it does feel like the mayhem is over too soon, that’s because Dougherty spends the first hour in second gear before cranking the momentum all the way up to overdrive in the final act. That build-up does allow the characters to emerge with more texture than you would expect from a horror comedy like this, but it also does mean that fans of his similarly holiday-themed ‘Trick R Treat’ will find that ‘Krampus’ packs less frights on the whole. Frankly, we went in with little to zero expectation and found ourselves pleasantly surprised at how mischievously entertaining this subversive piece of Christmas candy was, and so if you’re sick of Hollywood’s usual holiday eggnog, this may just be that taste of naughty and nasty you’re looking for.
(A refreshingly different Christmas movie, this horror comedy based on the ancient German folklore is an unassuming treat of wicked fun)
Review by Gabriel Chong