2015 is the year of many things, but who knew it would be the year of Krampus, the German Dopple-Santa who has garnered enough pop culture exposure the last decade to earn himself not one but three movies this year? The most prominent (the one you're here to read about) is Legendary Pictures' Krampus, directed and co-written by Michael Dougherty, who previously made the wonderful Trick 'R Treat. Boy likes his holidays. Will Krampus be as instant a seasonal (anti-seasonal?) classic as Trick 'R Treat?
Krampus sets an immediate tone opening with “It's Beginning to look a lot like Christmas” set over slow motion Black Friday mayhem, which leads us to Max, a young boy mid-fight because no one cares about Christmas and/or Santa. Already we have some themes: irony, consumerism, and of course the spirit of Christmas. Max is gotten by his parents, Adam Scott (Tom) and Toni Collette (Sarah), and then we meet the rest of the immediate family, Max's sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and German grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler.) Then David Koechner and the rest of his family show up to be Randy Quaid's family from Christmas Vacation. They have a batch of annoying kids (which also felt very Home Alone) and the unexpected Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell.) As you might've seen from the trailers, Max loses his Christmas spirit, shreds his list, and all hell breaks loose.
I read that they wanted the first half to be National Lampoon's and the second half Gremlins. For the most part I think they hit the tone of the first half. The jokes weren't killer but good, and there was a genuine wholesomeness that was sweet enough to push into Spielberg territory. Interestingly to me, aside from that tone, Krampus decided to sprinkle in many modern topics of debate here: the aforementioned negatives of Black Friday, the gun debate, climate change – polarizing political subjects. Not to make a point about any, it seemed, but perhaps to emphasize getting along no matter what you believe. That aside, it made Krampus feel distinctly 2015, which I thought was neat, especially given its influences.
Then there be monsters! Mostly practical monsters, at that. Krampus himself is seen first in a chase scene reminiscent of one of my favorite scenes from The Frighteners (and since Krampus was shot in New Zealand, might not be a coincidence.) I have nothing bad to say about the monsters of the picture. All were imaginative and menacing, and scale was used very well. I wanted more, but I'm greedy.
Are you sensing a turn here? That all sounds pretty great, right? Well, for whatever reason, Krampus felt muddy by the end, and I haven't been able to put my finger on why.
Some of it might have to do with the lack of Max being in the heat of the action until the end. The whole premise is based around him, and he's competent and in the movie enough, but never in danger (explained through the mythos or not.) Adam Scott and Koechner's relationship takes up a lot of screen time, and while important, could've been trimmed down. Also, although they might have nailed the Christmas Vacation half of tone, I didn't think they got the Gremlins half. There wasn't a sense of play from most of the creatures. Even though their designs alone gave lots of personality, I would have liked to see them interact in more specific ways. And again, they were all very great to look at it and watch menace, but I think a lot of potential was lost. The sense of humor in general left by this point, perhaps because everyone had put aside differences early. Too early? Or maybe there were too many good ideas on the naughty side to sort through.
Unrelated to quality, it's important to note that this is a hard PG-13, even with minor swearing and blood. I personally wouldn't have been able to handle it as a wee'n. The PG-13 does explain the two or three times Krampus cut away before the action, which is infinitely frustrating.
One last positive note: an orchestral score, and one that worked well. Once again, we live in a time where what would clearly have been a B-movie years ago is given a large marketing budget and a full orchestra. Imagine Jack Frost with a full orchestra (not Michael Keaton, the one where a serial killer gets resurrected as a snowman.)
Krampus didn't deliver a full sack of naughty children, more a mixed sack of cool baddies and a soggy mess around it (assumably also of naughty children.) Worth a watch for the villains alone, but maybe after you spend some time in front of the tree with your family, lest Krampus wallop your backside and yoink your offspring.