As the Christmas season comes closer every year, studios decide to release all of their holiday-themed movies at the same time, most of which include dysfunctional families coming together for some comedic tomfoolery. However, Universal Pictures has decided to change things up a bit with their newest release, Krampus, which offers a different kind of dysfunctional family tale during the season.
The film sees Max have to put up with his mother, father, sister, uncle, aunt, great aunt, four cousins and grandmother for Christmas in their suburban home, but thanks to other kids at school and his older cousins, he has lost the Christmas spirit, even tearing up his letter to Santa and throwing it out the window.
However, unknown to him, this anti-Christmas action has endangered him and his whole family for the three days leading up to Christmas day, as the evil spirit Krampus has now targeted him and his town.
The movie starts off with a very satirical tone, perfectly capturing Black Friday shoppers at their worst, as well as dysfunctional families always at each other's throats during the holidays.
Even as the horror element comes into play, the writers know how to incorporate the comedy elements into the right moments for some relief.
But the strongest aspect is certainly the scare factor, which director Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat) delivers effectively and with earnest. While at times it feels like the truly creepy atmosphere expressed in his previous films, there's also a sort of B-movie feel that evokes fond memories of the Joe Dante monster movies from the 80s, especially Gremlins and The Howling.
The creatures attacking the characters in the film are the perfect combination of terrifying and comedic, ranging from a vicious jack-in-the-box that swallows its victims whole to an army of gingerbread cookies that will use a nail gun against the family.
One of the film's few downsides was the final quarter of the film, which felt very rushed and a little too scattershot.
The fourth act starts right after Krampus' elves finally break into the house and take not one, not two, but four of the family members at once and leave at their master's call. The remaining family members decide to make a run for the snow plow, and as the monster under the snow attacks the group, Max's dad Tom (Adam Scott) sacrifices himself to let the rest escape.
However, the sacrifice is in vain as both of the moms, Sarah (Toni Collette) and Linda (Allison Tolman) are both taken by the monster as well, leaving only Max and Stevie. Stevie is taken by the elves while Krampus appears in front of Max and gives him a bell with Krampus' name on it, just as Max's grandmother received when she encountered the demon as a child.
Even with the quick back-to-back loss of characters, the ending is also a bit too much, feeling like a combination of four different potential endings.
The first ending could have been (and felt like it was going to be) as the camera panned away from Max after he received the bell, giving him the same message his grandma learned from Krampus when she was little. The "second" ending, which probably wouldn't have worked on its own, was that Max caught up with Krampus and his elves trying to be a hero, but instead joined his family in the underworld.
The third ending, which would have been a bit of a Hollywood cop-out, would have seen Max waking up from a horrible nightmare with his family all safe and sound, receiving a bell from Krampus as a present to remind him to be careful of what he wishes for in the future.
But, instead, we got the fourth ending, which combined all of these and added an even darker, more ambiguous twist. Not only did Max receive the bell as a "gift," it turns out the rest of the family had the same "nightmare," their memories all coming back at the same time as the camera pans out to show their house in a snowglobe in Krampus' workshop, leaving the viewer to wonder if they are trapped in his underworld for eternity or if he is watching over them to ensure they don't lose the Christmas spirit again.
The combined ending feels like the director and the studio couldn't come to an agreement on which to use, so they just used all of them. While the ambiguity adds to the feel of fear for the Krampus character, I personally hope that Dougherty comes out and gives us the fates of the characters in an interview.
Overall, Krampus is a very pleasant diversion from the typical Christmas movies, and is also a very solid horror film, but its occasional tonal discrepancies and rushed final act keep this from reaching its full potential.