3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)
Good modern Christmas films are hard to find. Sure, we rewatch Home Alone and The Santa Clause each year, along with the Rankin-Bass collection, but there’s a depressingly small selection of modern Christmas flicks. 2008’s Four Christmases is funny if you like old Vince Vaughn, and one can always find their Elf DVD to watch for the umpteenth time, but the 2010s had yet to bring us a memorable Christmas film (Seth Rogen’s The Night Before could have filled this void were it not for its overdependence on raunchiness, but that’s another article).
Then, like that gift you never know you wanted, Krampus came down under my cinematic tree. On paper, Krampus sounds like yet another film where we watch good actors get killed until there’s one left and then we can go home, having gained nothing, but lost two hours of our lives. However, with perfectly-cast actors, a surprisingly tense script, and taught direction, Krampus is a holiday movie that will make you believe in the Christmas spirit, or else.
The film opens with Max(newcomer Emjay Anthony) having another bad Christmas. The reason? His middle-class parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) are at the throats of their redneck siblings (David Koechner, Allison Tolman, and Conchata Ferrell). Max is sick and tired of these repeated family feuds at Christmastime, finding solace in the arms of his grandmother (Krista Stadler) amongst all the chaos.
The last straw comes when one of Max’s cousins chastises him for still believing in Santa Claus, causing the boy to rip up and discard his letter to him. Little does Max know that this act will bring a supernatural demon upon his family that will force them to put aside their differences and work together to survive.
I did not know about this film until a friend recommended it. He told me that the film’s comedic side was kept out of the advertisements, leading to people being somewhat disappointed with the final product. I personally enjoyed the film’s clever mixture of horror and laughs throughout most of the proceedings. I say most because the movie decides to drop the humor in the third act, a decision that doesn’t ruin the movie, but definitely makes it strange when you think about where the movie began.
The cast here is perfect. Adam Scott fits well into the lead role, and Toni Collette is a force to be reckoned with, as always. Emjay Anthony is appropriately sympathetic as Max, never becoming annoying like many kid actors do these days. However, David Koechner totally steals the movie. I believe this is his best role since the Anchorman movies, as it allows him to be absolutely hilarious as well as do some decent dramatic work. Koechner’s character would have been annoying had it been played by another actor, so I am happy that he was chosen. The rest of the family also holds their own, each becoming more likable as the film progresses.
I also must compliment the writing of this movie. The first 20 minutes cheat you into believing that the film will be another holiday dysfunctional family comedy a la Nothing like the Holidays or Christmas Vacation. I generally detest dysfunctional family “comedies”, as watching people argue for two hours is not my idea of entertainment. Arrested Development is excluded from this, as it does it right. However, the difference between this and Nothing like the Holidays is that the dialogue here is darkly comedic rather than outright hurtful, allowing for laughter to come. However, the horror comes in at the start of act 2, seeing a majority of the comedy come in witty bits between the horror elements. This works because, for the most part, one element doesn’t hurt the other. The film maintains its dark and intimidating tone despite having funny bits. Combining horror and humor is a very hard task, and I applaud the writers for being able to accomplish that throughout most of the film.
Unfortunately, that delicate balance drifts over to the horror side in the third act. I personally had no problem with this, but it may surprise people who were under the impression that the film was a comedy with horror elements in it. The tone is at its darkest in act three, and the funny lines become few and far between. There’s one sequence that is somewhat darkly comic, but it is played up more for serious horror than dark humor, which, given that the sequence involves (I’m not kidding here) demonic gingerbread men, I’m surprised they pulled off. That is the genius of this film. It gives you scenarios that you think will fail epically, but makes them work to the film’s advantage.
If you like horror films with a dash of humor, then this will be for you. If you like lighter horror comedy fair, I suggest Fright Night from 2011. It’s not Christmas-themed, but it is entertaining.
All in all, Krampus is a well-written, perfectly cast horror film with a comedic edge that manages to both scare you silly and make you laugh. See it.
Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence/Terror, Language, and some Drug Material