Movie review: ‘Krampus’ puts the spirit of the holidays into perspective
–Christmas can be stressful. It shouldn’t be, but it is. There’s shopping, planning, preparing and the sometimes stressful time spent with families. Plenty of movies have sought to capture the wonder, and stress, of Christmas. None of them has ever done it like “Krampus,” which isn’t your prototypical Christmas movie. It’s kind of a horror movie, yes, but it also has a pretty strong message out the meaning of the season. It’s probably something you wouldn’t expect.
Based on the legend about the demon that stalks those who fail to embrace the Christmas spirit, “Krampus” takes a hard look at Christmas, family and our rapidly evolving Christmas culture. It turns out to be a fascinating, unexpected journey.
The film centers on a family bracing for the holiday. Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) are busy with preparations and work. Oldest daughter Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) is dreading time with her extended family and wants to focus on her boyfriend. Tom’s mother, Omi (Krista Stadler) is busy baking and fretting, while youngest son Max (Emjay Anthony) is trying to defend the Christmas spirit and hang on to his optimism despite the difficulties of the season.
All that changes when Sarah’s sister, Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband Howard (David Koechner) and their children arrive. After an incredibly stressful dinner, Max finally snaps. Instead of writing his letter to Santa, a letter full of his hopes and dreams for his family, he tears it up and wishes his family would disappear.
When he awakes the following morning, Max and his family are trapped in the midst of an unexpected blizzard. But it isn’t just the weather that’s foul. Soon they begin to realize they are being challenged — and terrorized — by something unexpected. Only Omi seems to realize what is really going on.
When you go into a movie like “Krampus” you don’t know what to expect. Will it be a traditional horror film? Will it be comedic in spots? Will it be something more? Those were the questions I had going in, and the answer is that it’s all three, which is a rare treat.
I was hooked into what director Michael Dougherty was doing from the opening sequence. Dougherty co-wrote the film with Zach Shields and Todd Casey, and has a feel for what he wants to say through the film. The opening sequence is a beautiful piece of visual storytelling with a classic Christmas tune set over images of what Christmas has become — a battle to find presents and survive shopping. It sets the tone for the story and how the film wants to go.
Everything about the way this film is put together serves to push toward the kind of film that is being made. There are strong performances and plenty of interesting moments — both emotionally and visually.
This film accomplishes a lot. There are comedic moments that take advantage of the strength of the cast. But this is also a movie that works as a horror film, which is a big part of its aims. There are some incredibly creepy visuals, particularly in the third act, that help with the execution of this story.
But what surprised me most was how this film sought to make a statement about what the holidays should mean. I was moved a number of times by the emotional heart of the film. That is probably something you don’t expect from this kind of film, but it’s what helps make it a wonderful addition to this holiday season.
I also liked the work from the cast. Tolman, Koechner, Collette and Scott are all veteran actors who do a good job with their parts. But the star of this film is Anthony, who in a lot of ways captures the heart of this story.
It’s a film that provides the expected, then goes above and beyond. It’s not your typical Christmas film, but it offers a message that even George Bailey could appreciate, and it offers an ending that you won’t see coming – that’s a nice twist.
“Krampus” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sequences of horror violence/terror, language and some drug material.
Three stars out of four.