Film review of a festive horror comedy based on the folklore about an anti-Saint Nick, starring Toni Collette.
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Director: Michael Dougherty.(98 mins). Legendary Pictures/Universal. (15).
Cast & credits
Producers: Michael Dougherty, Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull.
Writers: Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields.
Camera: Jules O’Loughlin.
Music: Douglas Pipes.
Sets: Jules Cook.
Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but for young Max (Anthony) and his dysfunctional family it brings tension and arguments. After Max’s letter to Santa is cruelly read aloud by his cousins, Max, hurt, rips up his letter. The family’s lack of Christmas spirit unleashes the wrath of Krampus; a horned “shadow” of Saint Nick who punishes those who have been naughty. With Krampus and his helpers attacking the house, the family must put all squabbles aside to battle the festive looking demons.
Krampus comes from director Michael Dougherty, a man who had previously made, in my opinion, one of the most underrated and perfect halloween films Trick ‘r’ Treat (2007); a film that balances dark humour with a darker atmosphere. With this is mind, it gave me great hope and excitement to see how he could transfer his scares and laughs to the Christmas season. Was Krampus as inventive and amusing as Dougherty’s previous film? Short answer is no, but this film still has many merits that make it a fun film to watch.
Firstly the design of the film is admirable. The looks of Krampus’ little helpers are gruesomely fun or hilariously silly to look at. We have evil elves, a crazed angel tree topper, a cannibalistic jack in a box and my favourite, a trio of mischievous Gingerbread Men, all of which invoke Gremlins (1984).
Dougherty is great at creating holiday atmosphere. Trick ‘r’ Treat is undoubtedly a halloween film. Every shot screams halloween, and the festive Krampus is no different in regards to Christmas. From the opening sequence of shoppers battling each other for presents, to the snow, the tree, the presents, the festive music. Krampus starts off by looking like a modern day Christmas picture. That is until the introduction to the horror, then it becomes an eerie and dark picture, but still heavily Christmassy nonetheless.
In the midst of the film we also see an animated sequence that tells the backstory of the title character. It’s pleasant and creepy and looks like it’s come straight out of a fable. Krampus originates from an Austrian and German myth as a way to get children to behave close to the holiday. Legends state that those misbehaving will be visited by the creature who will proceed to whip you or send you to hell. Krampus to this day is still a stable figure in the Austrian’s festive traditions.
Battling this chilling legend is Max and his family. Hard working but loving Dad, Tom (Scott). Stressed Mum, Linda (Collette) who just wants perfection. Her sister Linda (Tolman) with ill-mannered Uncle Howard (Koechner), along with all their children. We also have Tom’s German Mother, Omi (Stadler) and loud alcoholic Great Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) to complete the household. All of whom create your bog standard dysfunctional dynamic.
The characters at times are a little stereotypical and one-dimensional. The humour amongst them in the film pre-Krampus’ arrival can also be strung out and hit and miss. However, a praise that they all receive is the fact that they act so seriously throughout the film. Even when they are getting attacked by the silliest of creatures (those evil Cookies) they are still believably terrified.
The biggest flaw in the film is the big man himself. Krampus is said to be the shadow of Saint Nick, and when we are first introduced to him, he is dark, unrecognisable and silhouetted. This works with him being a “shadow.” Throughout the earlier moments in the film, we only see quick glances of Krampus, which adds to the whole idea of not truly knowing his image. I liked this aspect of the character. Unfortunately in the second act we do get to see his face up close which ruined the element of mystery I was enjoying. He still looks impressive in design, but I preferred it when we only saw him from a distance.
In all, Krampus may not excel in either scares or laughs, but there are plenty of moments I did enjoy. The design of the entire film is lush to watch, the villains are stupidly entertaining and when it comes down to it, the family does become likeable. There is nothing like battling demons to bring the family closer together. It may not get the cult followings of Gremlins or Trick ‘r’ Treat, but Krampus has earned its place in my annual ‘Christmas films to watch’ list.
Now, let’s see how Dougherty handles Easter…
See the official trailer on Youtube.