Well, THAT went about as well as I could’ve hoped for. I’d been looking forward to Writer / Director Michael Dougherty’s next film ever since his debut movie, the awesome Halloween-themed anthology ‘Trick r Treat’, was completely screwed over by Warner Bros. on it’s original release, back in 2007. That flick had ‘teeth’ and style, both of which I thought were handled REALLY well. It baffles me, to this day, that WB apparently lost faith in the flick somewhere along the way and opted to give it the ole Direct to DVD treatment. From what I understand, no official explanation has ever been given as to why the studio opted to give this creative and ballsy flick The Shaft the way that it did, but once it was released, I snagged a viewing as soon as I could…and LOVED it! ‘Trick r Treat’ is a great holiday horror flick and I highly recommend it. Which brings me to ‘Krampus’. Given what he did with ‘Trick r Treat’ (as well as his various writing credits), it was apparent that the man has talent, but I was afraid that THAT film MAY have wound up being a fluke. Just look what happened to Writer / Director Neill Blomkamp (so far). He burst out of the gate with the excellent ‘District 9’ (2009), then stumbles with ‘Elysium’ (2013), and then pretty much falls on his face with ‘Chappie’ (2015), at least where his Main Characters were concerned. Point is, I hope this isn’t the trajectory that Dougherty takes and, after having just got back from taking in ‘Krampus’…I think that man will have a solid career behind the camera. Hell, even just the fact that this $15 million holiday genre flick has, as of this writing, taken in a tidy $28 million, bodes well for another chance to get Dougherty’s ass back in the chair. Rumor has it his next flick with be the muchly anticipated sequel to ‘Trick r Treat’ (yay!). But for now…back to ‘Krampus’!.
The movie opens with a hilariously cynical look at modern Xmas here in North America. Ironically set to a happy Christmas tune and played out in dramatic slow motion, we see shoppers losing their minds in the department stores as they all fall victim to the need to show off their holiday cheer through rampant and repulsive consumerism. Fights break out. Shoppers grab and scuffle. Money is grudgingly exchanged, and people look stressed and miserable. You know…just like Christmas! Through this holiday anarchy, we meet young ‘Max’ (Emjay Anthony), and his two parents, ‘Tom’ (Adam Scott) and ‘Sarah Engel’ (Toni Collette) as they return home from a disastrous school presentation (fists were flying!) in order to prepare for ‘Sarah’s sister and her brood of mean, dumb-ass kids and shlubby, red-neckish husband ‘Howard’ (David Koechner) to arrive for the holidays. We see that ‘Max’ has a close relationship with his somewhat mysterious, German-speaking grandmother ‘Omi’ (Krista Stadler), and seeks comfort in talking to her about the holidays and how he wishes things could be better. Before long, the awkward family gathering degenerates into an angry shit-show and ‘Max’ bolts for his room. In a fit of despair, he tears up his letter to Santa and throws the pieces out into the snowy night. The next day, things are not quite what they should be. A mysterious snowman has appeared in their yard, followed by another…and another, and soon a freak snow storm descends upon their suburban neighborhood. The power is cut, and the wind and driven snow thickens, giving the area an eerie and claustrophobic feeling. It soon becomes apparent that strange forces are at work and a massive, horned creature is soon spotted through the gloom. This is ‘Krampus’…and he has a job to do. The bickering family is forced to put their differences aside to try to fend off the vicious attacks, first from ‘Krampus’s army of freaky minions…then from the beast himself.
As I said in my intro, this movie was almost exactly what I hoped for, and expected it to be. I think it’s safe to say that we, the Movie-Going Masses, now have a new Holiday-themed genre flick that will find itself in heavy rotation around this time of year, for many years to come, along with true holiday classics like ‘Scrooged’, ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Die Hard’. Speaking of ‘Gremlins’, I would have to say that THAT 1984 movie is the most comparable in tone and delivery to ‘Krampus’. There’s something whimsical about both flicks…but also something creepy and ominous too. And violent.
‘Krampus’ makes effective use of it’s PG-13 rating, as people…yes…that means children too, meet with unpleasant ends at the teeth and claws of ‘Krampus’ and his supernatural goons. It only would’ve taken a nudge or two to push this one into ‘R’ territory. All that was missing was the sprays of gore and gurgling screams. As ok as I’d be with THAT approach, I think an effective balance was struck with the horrific and fantastical elements on display here, without taking things to ‘Hostel’-levels of viciousness.
One of the ‘stand out’ aspects that stuck with me was the attention to ‘atmosphere’. Once the blizzard falls over the ‘hood, the pristine winter wonderland takes on an oppressive and scary veneer. I was reminded of being underwater, where something that can see you may be lurking in the gloom…but you can’t see it till it’s too late. That’s how ‘Krampus’ and his creatures operated, often lurking just out of sight, with only the slightest of unsettling sounds or sightings betraying their presence…and it worked like a charm.
Speaking of ‘charm’, there’s a fair bit of character and situation-based humor scattered throughout the 98 minute run-time and it helped balance out what could’ve become a tiring bleakness. Thankfully, the humor helped bolster the characters and, despite several of them starting off as total shit-heads, had me rooting for them to make it to the end. To me…that’s the mark of ‘Good Writing’.
The cast was solid and I don’t think there was a weak link to be found. I’ve never knowingly seen Adam Scott in anything prior to this, but I liked his charming ‘everyman’ness and the willingness to step outside his yuppyish comfort zone and get ‘dirty’ for the sake of his family and their lives. Toni Collette was a good anchor for his character and I thought their ‘Husband and Wife’ chemistry felt believable. David Koechner was the comic relief as the gun-toting dipshit ‘Howard’, and it was nice to see that what could’ve been nothing more than an ode to Randy Quaid’s moron ‘Cousin Eddie’ character from ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989) actually turned out to have a semi-decent human being lurking inside his Humvee-driving, shotgun-wielding exterior. Everyone else did what they needed to do, taking the material seriously enough to give the stakes facing the family ‘weight’.
Another aspect that I VERY much appreciated was the use of largely practical effects to portray ‘Krampus’s grab-bag of dangerous monsters. With the exception of some ‘Army of Darkness’-like shenanigans involving a hit-team of gingerbread men, they all looked like they were there, on set with the actors to give them something tangible to react to, as opposed to a tennis ball on a pole that will be painted over later via CG. The designs of the creatures were a cool blend of traditional toys and slimy demonic hybrids that actually looked like something I’d instinctively try to either kill with my bare hands or run away from while screaming…or both. Kudos to Dougherty and his design team for dreaming up these fucked-up little bastards. They definitely helped up the ‘cool’ factor.
Going along with the sweet atmosphere that they established, I was very pleased with the overall ‘look’ of the cinematography. The compositions were pretty and disciplined, and the use of strategically-placed splashes of color and light gave the movie an effective visual tone, similar to the richness Dougherty gave ‘Trick r Treat’ in 2007.
Overall, ‘Krampus’ was a very cool addition to the Holiday Movie Roster and is one that I’ll probably not only own, but may also make a point of annually checking it out in the weeks leading up to Christmas…once it gets it’s Home Release. With the exception of a slight lag in the pacing of Act 2, the movie moved along at a good clip and didn’t once feel like it was outstaying it’s welcome. The German-oriented legend of ‘Krampus’ has been begging for a worthy Big Screen adaptation with some balls…and I think we may have gotten it with this title. Just forget about the slew of cheap-ass ‘Krampus’ attempts that have been shat onto the DVD and VoD formats. Stick with this version. It’s the good one!
* I’d be curious to find out if there’ll be an Unrated version that may one day be floating around out these. Like I said, it would take only a nudge or two to shove this one squarely into ‘Restricted’ territory. And I’d be curious to see that. Just saying.