In 2007, writer/director Michael Dougherty set out to redefine Halloween horror with Trick ’r Treat, a clever anthology that emphasized eeriness over pounding terror. For his follow-up, the helmer aims to shake up another holiday with Krampus, a Christmas chiller that’s trying to scare during the season of giving.
Again avoiding cheap thrills, Dougherty creates an entertaining monster mash, which blends yuletide sensitivities with the wrath of ghoulish creatures. The production doesn’t aim to create a roller coaster ride of oddity, preferring to step carefully, leaving the endeavor feeling slack at crucial moments, but it’s still satisfying overall.
Photo courtesy of Legendary Pictures
Krampus’ campy extremes are a lump of coal in a movie that’s more engaging in panic mode.
It’s Christmas in suburbia, and Max (Emjay Anthony) wants nothing more than to stick to tradition with his increasingly distanced family. Mom Sarah (Toni Collette) is anal retentive, while dad Tom (Adam Scott) is overworked, and sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) has grown up, leaving Max to consider abandoning holiday magic.
Stomping into the house are Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman), husband Howard (David Koechner), and their awful kids, who bully Max into rejecting his letter to Santa, which inadvertently welcomes evil into town.
As the temperature drops and a colossal blizzard blows in, the extended family is trapped in their house when the Santa-like demon Krampus arrives.
Krampus has something to say about the holiday season, showcasing the misery of Christmas shopping, and pulling Max into a fight with a boy looking to expose the myth of Santa in front of gathered kids.
Max is the soul of Krampus, his belief in Santa the catalyst for the demon’s arrival. However, before creatures are unleashed, Dougherty has a few ideas to share on the fragility of domestic harmony and how easy magic dissipates once wonder is willingly replaced by reality.
Krampus doesn’t transition to horror for quite some time, but soon genre touches begin swirling into view. Beth gets lost in the whiteout, forcing Tom and cartoonishly masculine Howard into rescue mode. Instead of finding the teen girl, they happen across Krampus, a goat-like ghoul who’s out to collect a fresh round of innocents.
The attack sequences are the most thrilling, teasing a Gremlins tone of comic mayhem and miniature foe. The production wins points for mixing CGI with practical effects, adding touchable texture to the nightmare.
Visually, Krampus is quite impressive and always most interesting when giving itself over to horror. The effort feels slack at times, while campy extremes are a lump of coal in a movie that’s more engaging in panic mode.
Dougherty doesn’t sustain berserk encounters, but his heart is in the right place, constructing an atmospheric chiller that explores myth, monsters, and family antagonisms. Krampus doesn’t overwhelm like it could, but it does hit a few genre sweet spots with real imagination.