Krampus is Disappointing Holiday Horror Fare
by Kristin Battestella
If you think your December is bad, consider the anti-Saint Nick killer of the 2015 horror comedy Krampus. Though starting strong with relatable holiday family sarcasm and budding snowbound scares, this PG-13 combination tale never embraces its unique monster potential and fizzles into disappointing, pedestrian fare.
Young Max (Emjay Anthony) wants his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) to have some Christmas spirit again. Unfortunately, arguments with his visiting Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), Uncle Howard (David Koechner), and his nasty cousins make Max tear up his ridiculed letter to Santa Claus – creating an invitation for the evil, ancient spirit of Krampus to descend their chimney instead...
Likable dad Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) isn't traveling for work but he's still on business calls, creating a supposed marital strain and leaving his son to watch Charlie Brown alone. Tom's sardonic wanting to get the holiday over with turns into action as the scares mount, and he uses his town knowledge for a fighting advantage and plan of attack to proactively protect his family. Sadly, the adults in Krampus are under developed clichés –ironic place holders learning how to make sacrifices for a happy holiday just because the plot says so. We never know what Tom's job is, where they live, or why the marriage is troubled, compromising any relatability the stars have. Toni Collette's (United States of Tara) Sarah tries to make Christmas perfect by having everything super clean, but her decorating is considered to be “Martha Stewart threw up in here” over the top. She has some moxie when her kitchen or fancy food are criticized, but her angel on top of the tree saccharin doesn't add the spirit Krampus needs. Though too brief, Krista Sadler (Lena Rais) provides Old World strength and wisdom as the German-speaking grandmother Omi, and she respects the past when cultural ethnicity and traditions mattered instead of celebrations without meaning. Omi crosses herself once – the only time Jesus is referenced in a Christmas parable about sacrifice – and does what needs to be done but Krampus remains too modern and mainstream bland, generic rather than Germanic. The titular potential is neutered by stagnant characters who never really learn but drop in quick succession – almost as if they knew the ninety minutes were up and an absolutely wrong time and place joke was due to deflate any meaningful foothold. I almost want to see Krampus from his point of view, watching as his nasty influence and take rather than give plan reveals everyone's true colors.
Emjay Anthony's (Chef) Max wears a bow tie, annoyingly repeats everything his grandmother says, and claims he's smart and old enough to know what's happening – never mind that his torn up and tossed to the wind letter is what brought the wrath of Krampus upon them. At thirteen he's too old to believe in Santa Clause, and Max even gets in a fight defending the Jolly One before writing him seeking help for his family. If Max truly wanted Christmas to be as it was, he could have gone ahead with their traditions and reminded everyone of their holiday memories instead of bitching over his letter to Santa being read aloud. That's the worst thing that has ever happened to him? That embarrassment is worth cursing your family to damnation? Unfortunately, Max thinks he can fix his fault by asking for a reset, and Krampus sacrifices its Scrooge scared straight possibility in favor of the very millennial blasé it warns against. Likewise, daughter Stefanie LaVie Owen (The Carrie Diaries) is irrelevant alongside too many gross, mean, disposable cousins and a baby who's initially forgotten in a tricked out Hummer named Lucinda. I think the family dog gets more screen time than some of the non-speaking kids! Sarah's sister Allison Tolman (Fargo) is made little woman simple while her redneck husband David Koechner (The Office) forges an odd friendship with Tom. He has useful skills and calls it like it is, but Krampus makes him smart or stupid as needed. Conchata Ferrell's (Two and a Half Men) Aunt Dorothy gets through the scares with some peppermint schnapps – Krampus liking schnapps is never mentioned, boo – and her drunken sarcasm should be the only requisite quipping comedy. Unfortunately, Krampus goes overboard with ill timed laughs and puns in all the wrong places. Does this bitter family deserve what Krampus brings? We never know them as anything more than script proxies, so the audience can't be sure.
Blowing snow, aerial shots, and weather effects give Krampus a fitting brr alongside holiday music and other bells, chimes, and diegetic sounds of the season. Fine blackout schemes and blue patinas work well – a chilly to contrast the yellow firelight and candlelit glows. While the leaping from house to house and rooftop flying effects are messy CGI, the thumping landings and howling echoes match the horned silhouette, giant hooves, and beastly furry cloak. Brief binocular sightings, unseen creatures attacking under the snow, and abandoned, frosty homes with trashed wreaths and destroyed fireplaces invoke fitting fears alongside trees on fire and ruined presents. Krampus uses practical designs and doesn't reveal the full enormity of the monster – leaving the caressing, pointed nails and long, too close for comfort tongue to suggest the sinister. There's minimal technology as well – tablets and smartphones are used until their power dies – but the gingerbread men effects are poor, even stupid along with unnecessary jesters and animated toys, hectic attic battles, confusing flue action, and intercut household sieges. Krampus himself doesn't do very much as his trying to be humorous but ultimately laughable little minions run amok. The notion of his Santa mask having something hidden underneath is disappointing up close, and minimally used evil elves abducting children, a sack of souls collected by Krampus, and his ghoulish sleigh are better reversions on the theme. The retro animated flashback is also an old school anchor for Krampus, showing the bleak loss of seasonal spirit and giving in terrible times with a sad narration and the scared reaction of one little girl. Unfortunately, the fiery finale leaves some audiences confused, and the production mistakenly relies on alternate scenes or commentaries – absent on the rental blu-ray, naturally – and companion books to explain Krampus when a film must take care of itself.
Instead of wasteful ignorance and apathy, perhaps a prayer or some faith could have given Krampus a stronger battle of wills? The neither here nor there tone inadvertently embraces both anti-religion by not mentioning anything creche yet also admonishes audiences for treating Christmas like a going through the motions date on the calendar. A straight forward family holiday drama or full on horror one or the other decision may have served Krampus better – breathing room to trust its own dark, sardonic allegory instead of dampening good horrors with a humorous overload. What's supposed to be so funny about Krampus anyway? This is a divisive, anti-Home Alone, and Krampus' need for commercial safety, weak jokes, and trite action combines for an uneven parody and try hard “oops my bad” disappointment that inexplicably underutilizes its own ominous folklore.