Writer/Director Michael Dougherty takes another stab at focusing on horror during the holidays with his latest fright fest, Krampus. This time he shifts his attention from Halloween to the myths and origins of jolly old Saint Nick of Christmas tales by playing with the European legends of Krampus, referred to here as the shadow of Saint Nicolas. But this is not enough for Dougherty and his fellow screen writers Todd Casey and Zach Shields as they fill Krampus‘ bag of tricks to the absolute brim with a bevy of imaginative, horrifying and devilish “helpers” that are a nothing short of a lovingly wrapped holiday present for horror fans everywhere. The film is dark and twisted but it is also touching and emotional as it never loses track of the family at the center of the film – and even more so young Max who is the backbone of the film. Krampus carries with it a familiar – and welcomed – 80’s horror comedy tone that is nothing short of brilliant. It has a tinge of Spielberg, Landis, Dante and Burton. The cast is perfect, the effects are amazing and the story is engaging. Horror fans have plenty to be thankful for in Krampus as it makes its way into the theaters this holiday season illustrating what a horror film can be in this modern era, especially with it being a solid PG-13 film with little blood and gore.
The script starts off with a family that feels not too far from the Griswolds of National Lampoon’s Vacation. Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) are preparing for their family to visit for Christmas weekend, there’s holiday decorations (described as if Martha Stewart threw up all over the walls), an eclectic Christmas feast and winter snow. Their son, Max (Emjay Anthony), is struggling with losing track of what is special at this time of year, the wonder, the innocence, the belief in Santa and the family itself. Enter Howard (David Koechner) and Linda (Allison Tolman) towing their children behind along with their disgruntled Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrel). After Max’s dwindling innocence is finally squashed when his cousin reads his letter to Santa aloud, a sudden snow storm pounds overhead leaving them stranded without electricity, phones or transportation. Soon they begin to realize there is something else hiding in the snow, something with hooves that stands on its hind legs. Family members begin to go missing and the horrors of grandma Omi’s (Krista Stadler) homeland rise to turn holiday cheer into a winter land of nightmares.
As important as the creatures found in Krampus are to its horrific tone and comic appeal, it’s the cast that make it all come together. Adam Scott and Toni Collette are terrific as a married couple who have lost sight of the love that binds them together. They are not horrible people, they are not horrible to each other, instead they are just too far lost in the hardships of life to remember what is important in their lives. It is a reality that many audience member can easily relate to, it is a common fallacy of the modern family, the core theme of Krampus. Scott and Collette are able to walk that thin line where you feel for both of them equally, you understand their strife and their dissatisfaction with each other, the Christmas season and the extended family invading their lives for the holidays. Scott represents this perfectly when describing the reasons for having relatives around for the holidays to young, disenchanted Max. While he authentically means every word, he also weaves in threads of doubt and exhaustion with the ideals at the same time. Collette also shines when she want to impress every one with her special meals prepared for the holiday feast while they would be perfectly satisfied with “macaroni & cheese and hot dogs.” She lashes out at Aunt Dorothy demanding she stay out of her kitchen as her eyes realize the impact of her own words. As Krampus continues, they both deal with these concepts especially the more their family members begin to disappear.
As great as Adam Scott and Toni Collette are in Krampus, it is Emjay Anthony (previously seen in Chef) who wonderfully represents the heart of the film. He draws in the audience with his wide-eyed innocence and heartfelt pain as his love for the season is continually stepped on and snuffed out. The more his desire to believe in Santa dwindles the darker the film becomes. Emjay effortless and perfectly represents that youthful tone and longing for family, holidays and cheer. He also brings an intelligence and spunk to the role that is much needed to keep it from turning sappy and too sugar sweet. There’s a little rebel in him for certain. His role is made all that more effective by pairing him with Krista Stadler as his grandmother Omi. Speaking mostly in her native tongue, Stadler is a complete joy in Krampus representing both the hope and the desperation of the underlying messages buried under the creatures and mayhem. Her sadness seems to reach out to Emjay’s Max wanting to envelope him in a protective embrace, her eyes tearing with sadness as she realizes that he too is becoming disillusioned with the holidays, family and joy of the season. Everything that happens in the film exists somewhere between the ties that bond these two characters.
But, horror fans likely want to get to the good stuff: the monsters, the creatures, the Krampus himself. Doughterty and his team of effects artist out do themselves delivering a gallimaufry of visual tricks and treats. The film delivers. There is so much in Krampus to love and appreciate, it will take multiple viewings to soak it all in. Nothing is simply just there on screen, no short cuts are taken. Everything exceeds with imagination, realization and execution. Krampus is not alone, minor spoilers, he brings with him his own collection of helpers and minions – his own demented, twisted version of an island of misfit toys. While each creature is delightfully unique, they all have a common visual theme that makes all the work that goes into their individuality that much stronger. Early on, Dougherty cuts to the chase having Krampus pursue one the characters through the neighborhood as he jumps from rooftop to rooftop. It is an impressive, satisfying and exciting introduction to the treats the director has in store. From there, it never lets up, never fails to surprise even through to the very last frame.
Krampus is a gift, a joy of a holiday horror film. For older horror fans – or those who enjoy the older horror films – theletter movie revisits the themes and tone of such films as Gremlins, Monster Squad or Goonies. It embraces the seasonal atmosphere surrounding its premise bringing in familiar holiday songs, creepy and fascinating twists on holiday legends from the old country and a youthful innocence to the world that continues to remind us how awful it can be. Michael Doughtery surpasses his previous holiday favorite Trick ‘r Treat with a more confident and rich film. His efforts are augmented by an excellent cast. While the adults are perfect for the sweet, horror and comedic blend – Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner as standouts – it is the kids that steal the show. Stefanie LaVie Owen gets to shine early in the film, but the bulk of Krampus‘ themes and tone rests on the able shoulders of Emjay Anthony who captures that short-lived transition from childhood innocence and hope to young-adult pessimism and distrust. The creatures begin to corrupt and discolor the pleasures of the season as toys become monsters and cookies become instruments of death. The effects teams – listed on IMDb in the dozens – who bring these visuals to life have outdone expectation creating horrific walking, screeching nightmares. So much fun! Krampus is a film to be enjoyed this holiday season and for every December that follows.
Krampus (4.8 / 5)