“Krampus” Movie Review


     A family not unlike the one in last month’s “Love the Coopers” populates director Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus”, but in this film the characters pay dearly for their yuletide shenanigans, rather than simply make nice for the few hours they are forced to be together.  Combining both the familiar plotting and the traditional setting of so many Christmas gone wrong comedies, “Krampus” mixes in shades of horror into the festivities, courtesy of a “Gremlins” style invasion by an evil Christmas spirit who punishes those whose negative vibe ruins the true meaning of the holiday.  Dougherty, along with his co-screenwriters Todd Casey and Zach Shields, jam pack the first half hour or so with enough family squabbling and unending drama to fill an entire film.  Some of it is actually pretty hilarious, though nearly every scene revolves around overused cliches and characters who are clearly spoofing those in several classic Christmas movies.  And though Dougherty provided the screenplays for two notable superhero films, “Superman Returns” and “X-Men 2”, his second feature film plays more along the lines of his first effort, the 2007 Halloween scare fest “Trick ‘r Treat”.

     In the opening credits sequence, we’re treated to an over the top Black Friday style stampede indicating how grotesquely commercial the holidays have become.  Helpless doormen are crushed, shoppers scramble and fight over gifts, and security guards use stun guns on misbehaving revelers while wearing mischievous grins on their faces.  All in an effort to score a deal, likely for themselves.  These first few minutes of “Krampus” say a lot about some of the acceptable norms in society, particularly with this annual drill people involve themselves in, all the while completely forgetting what the purpose of the holidays is supposed to be in the first place.  I was hopeful the timely originality of this scene  may have been an indication of brighter things to come, but instead, the proceedings move directly into a family home that seems like one we’ve already been in so many times before.

     Adam Scott already owns the most startling moment in cinema this year with his bizarre turn in Patrick Brice’s “The Overnight” (If you haven’t yet seen that film, it’s worth a look.), but here he settles into the role of a white collar business man named Tom, who lives in a sprawling suburban home and is clearly enjoying the height of his success.  That success seems to have come at a price however, since his wife, Sarah (Toni Collette), rolls her eyes at the site of him answering work calls when he promised to spend time with the family.  Their teenage daughter, Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), wants nothing to do with the upcoming festivities, instead preferring to trek down the block to see her boyfriend.  Their younger son, Max (Emjay Anthony), is also struggling with Christmas.  His letter to Santa, rather than listing his Christmas wishes, points out how far his family has fallen in terms of togetherness.  Even he at maybe 10 years old realizes things are not like they used to be, as the gatherings have become more obligatory than festive.

     And that’s before Uncle Howard, played by “Anchorman” vet David Koechner, walks through the door in obvious Cousin Eddie style with his wife, Linda (Allison Tolman who played the lead in the first season of the “Fargo” TV series), and their four kids.  To the dismay of Sarah, they also have brought along their Aunt Dorothy (whom you will recognize instantly as Berta from “Two and a Half Men”), who functions as the family drunk and resident trailer trash.  Through the early scenes and specifically the dialogue, you get the idea these two families have very different ideals as far as how they live their lives, what they believe in, and what they consider proper manners.  In a dinner scene, it becomes rather obvious which family wouldn’t favor gun control since they arrive sporting hunting camo and several accessible firearms at their disposal.  Just the look Tom and Sarah give their guests when they first walk through the door really says it all.  And the kids are no better, as Beth looks to detach her herself from the situation and Max is constantly tormented by his two tomboy cousins who steal his letter to Santa and expose his true thoughts.  The constant bickering never ends, which is why the old and wise live in grandmother, Omi (Krista Stadler), begins to warn the family of what she fears is coming, as if she has seen all of this happen before.

     If “Krampus” would have continued on with the typical holiday melodrama, it would’ve sealed its fate as just another run of the mill Christmas comedy attempting to somehow rekindle the kind of magic that made classics out of films like “Christmas Vacation” and “A Christmas Story”. Instead of going that route, Dougherty shifts gears like he’s driving a Mustang Cobra intent on breaking a speed record on the quarter mile.  Apparently, this family has unleashed the evil Christmas monster known as Krampus with their continual lack of respect for Christmas and each other.  Along with Krampus and a massive winter storm, an army of devilish gingerbread men, stuffed animals, robots, and clowns attack Tom and his family with a combination of horror film scares and “Gremlins” style mayhem.  Nothing on screen comes across as scary and in fact, most will likely giggle at the cast of Christmas elves, cookies, and gag gifts who begin to pick off the family one by one.  None of this is to be taken seriously as the film takes on the  tone of several other notable horror/comedies such as “Zombieland”, “Shaun of the Dead”, or the recent “The Final Girls”, using a combination of tongue and cheek humor and over the top visuals to get a rise out of the audience.  And while “Krampus” shares a lot in common with those three examples, it never really sets itself apart, meaning the end result feels a lot like those family gatherings the film intends to skewer.  A rehashing of the same old thing that we are forced to suffer through year after year. GRADE: C-