Ah, Krampus! A traditional tale of German folklore which, coming from a German family myself, I was at least somewhat familiar with growing up. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for such ancient tales. Kids today just aren't terrified into being good anymore. You don't hear much about what happens if you've been naughty all year. The worst you get in the US is a lump of coal in your stocking. Maybe reindeer poop. Or owl pellets, if someone in your family is eccentric enough (okay, so I made that one up).
I found myself somewhat more pleasantly surprised by this film than I initially thought. Though much of it gets tedious and yawn-worthy around the middle, the overarching message of not taking anything for granted and spreading kindness always bears repeating during the holiday season. I thought that part at least was done beautifully, and the acting was solid.
On to the review!
*SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT
Krampus is a creature you definitely don't want roaming around in your home for the holidays, as the Engel family soon discovers. Everyone gathers in the home for a typical Christmas dinner, more out of obligation and routine than genuine heartfelt cheer. There's a deep sense of unease when the cousins, aunt, and uncle arrive. It's a classic trope apparent in many comedies; the upper-class suburbanites want little to do with that side of the family--the backwater hillbillies with their far-right politics (which they must discuss openly at the dinner table), their guns, and their unconventional behavior. But they all get together, again, out of obligation.
Max is the kid with the Christmas spirit that everyone else seems to have lost. He still believes in Santa Claus, and his wish is of course the purest one. He wants his family back together and for all their relationship problems to end. His parents are fast falling out of love, his sister is selfish, his cousins give him a hard time. But even he is not immune to corruption, as it soon becomes clear when the relatives arrive and start stirring up trouble. In a moment of anger and frustration, he tears up his letter to Santa Claus, and that's when everything goes awry.
A snowstorm of epic proportions batters the town and knocks out the electricity. Max's sister Beth runs off to visit her stoner boyfriend to make sure he's okay and likely get high with him (in traditional holiday spirit, he earlier showed her his snowman bong via Skype...or maybe it was Santa Claus? I don't recall). On the way, she runs into none other than Krampus, spotting him perched on a nearby rooftop.
That scene actually was one of the more memorable ones for me. He appears as a big, dark shadow. It made me think "okay, perhaps this movie isn't the regrettable decision I know it is". But alas. The horror elements are presented gradually, which I enjoyed up until it got patently ridiculous and the gingerbread men showed up to wreak havoc. That's not to say one couldn't infer a bit of the ridiculousness from the trailer.
It unfolds in predictable fashion, with the father Tom and his brother Uncle Howard going out to find Beth when they realize she's been gone for too long. They discover Beth's boyfriend's house is empty and clawed up by Krampus, with a dead gingerbread man knifed to the refrigerator. Going back into the storm, they encounter Krampus (or one of Krampus' cronies?) snaking around beneath the snow. Uncle Howard/Champ Kind almost loses a leg before Tom shoots it (WHAMMY!), and they hobble back to the house, deciding their own survival is more important than retrieving Beth at the moment, who by now is probably a human icicle.
The family falls asleep in the living room and the fire dies. A chain descends down the chimney with a gingerbread man on it, and the chubby Howie Jr. grabs it and takes a bite. The gingerbread man screams and laughs, quickly wrapping the boy in the chain. Krampus drags him out through the chimney. Hearing the creature's helpers in the attic, Stevie and Jordan (both girls whom their father wishes were boys) go up to investigate to get Howie back. They end up getting taken by a myriad of nightmare toys while the gingerbread men try to staple gun Howard to death in the kitchen. Good thing he's packing his 12-gauge.
At that point, I decided it would be unbearable and I had to sigh throughout the rest of the movie. This film wants to be Gremlins-esque in a way. It tries. Ultimately it fails and just ends up being dumb, though only because of the action scenes. Had they been given more thought, it would have been on par maybe.
But the ruckus continues in a flurry of blinding action (a 21st century film staple I have never quite understood. It's a good bet the scenes are cut quickly for time constraints, but I can never tell what's going on in action scenes anymore because they're edited so split-second). Krampus eventually takes everyone except Max who--like his grandmother before him decades earlier--is left behind with a rusty old bell bearing Krampus' name to tell the story of what happens when you lose your Christmas spirit.
And that's where it should have ended for proper effect.
But this is a Christmas film, so naturally it can't. Max charges on, begging for his family back, offering to sacrifice himself instead. It dragged out for maybe ten more minutes to include the typical Christmas film trope of a family opening presents and spreading holiday cheer, having learned a difficult lesson.
But then Max opens his present, and there's the rusty bell again. The scene zooms out to show their house encased in a snow globe, just one of many on Krampus' workroom shelf showing other houses and families. It's unclear whether or not he is holding them prisoner or simply keeping an eye on them to make sure they're being grateful and loving.
Overall I had to give this film a 4 out of 10. It wasn't particularly good, but then again, Christmas movies rarely are. They're more about the message and in the end, that's the most important thing.
What did you think of Krampus? Square off in the comments below!