At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Krampus “2015”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Christmas Horror-Comedy/Stars: Emjay Anthony, Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Maverick Flack, Mark Atkin, Sage Hunefeld, Leith Towers, Curtis Vowell, Luke Hawker, Brett Beattie; Voices of: Gideon Emery, Seth Green, Breehn Burns, Justin Roiland, Ivy George/Runtime: 97 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by reminding all of you of a certain iconic scientific principle (trust me when I say that there is a point to doing so rather than boring all of you to tears immediately). That iconic principle in question being that for every action undertaken, there is usually an equivalent and opposite reaction which can make itself present (or something to that effect). The reason that I bring this up is because, being Christmas Day and all that, if ol’ Kris Kringle has decided to make his way down the chimney with a bag full of goodies for all the “good little boys and girls in the world” then I know this might sound a bit on the mean-spirited side, but I don’t really see giving the bad kids a lump of coal to be an equal response. Rather, I would think that if you are going to reward no less than 365 days of fairly (key word there) consistent good behavior with some clothes, some candy, and some toys then you should be willing to stricken those who have been naughty or who just don’t personify the virtues consistent with the “Christmas spirit” with quite a bit of an unholy night’s worth of terror. Oh, if only there was a Christmas figure who could do that for our viewing pleasure. Well dear reader (in case you hadn’t put two and five together) there is. His name is Krampus and he, according to the folklore he originates in, is a demonic being from the days of ol’ that is supposed to show up around the same time as Santa only to dispense a healthy dose of wrath on those who have traded the Christmas spirit in for other less desirable qualities. He is also the subject incidentally of the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2015’s Krampus. Indeed, imagine if you mixed the family dynamic in either Christmas Vacation or Home Alone alongside the horror-comedy qualities found in something like Gremlins and you should start to be able to form an idea of what to expect here. No, this slice of cinema isn’t always what you might consider to be “scary”, but it is consistently on-point in its riveting portrayal of a highly dysfunctional family finding its bitterness and squabbling turned against them and as a result are forced to band together and survive both the titular yet still quite enigmatic foe and his vast array of minions inside and a downright hostile wintery landscape outside. Suffice it to say that it might have its flaws, but the cast assembled is pretty good and the work done behind the camera (with Trick ‘r Treat helmer Michael Doughtery leading the way) is more than capable. As a result, Krampus might not be a perfect slice of cinema, but as a cinematic haunted house working with a Christmas theme it most assuredly gets the job done.

The plot is as follows: Beginning a few days before Christmas, Krampus gets underway as we see that a family known as the Engels is in the process of getting ready for that “most magical time of the year” and in the process spending at least some of it with family matriarch Sarah’s relatives. A group incidentally that they aren’t exactly the biggest fans in the world of and trust me when I say that the feeling is most assuredly mutual. However, out of everyone in this extremely dysfunctional group, there is one who is worth noting over all the others. That being the youngest member of the Engels’ clan Max. This is because Max is still a firm advocate for both maintaining the spirit of the season as well as an ironclad belief in ol’ Saint Nick even if he has to physically fight someone as a result. Unfortunately for Max, the majority of the rest of his family don’t exactly share these sentiments which ultimately winds up culminating in the young man getting in an all-out altercation with his cousins after they mercilessly tease and taunt him for his continual belief and ends with Max making it clear he not only hates his whole family, but also Christmas in general. Yet, despite his dear ol’ dad Tom trying his best to make him feel better, we see that instead Max rips up his letter in anger and tosses it in the roaring wind outside. Unfortunately, this act doesn’t merely result in Max simply being labeled as a holiday litter bug and being slapped with community service hours. Rather, it is this action that, when combined with the complete and utter void of positive holiday spirit in this household, which winds up summoning a being known as Krampus. A being that takes great twisted delight in punishing those who either don’t believe or who have no qualms about disrespecting the holiday spirit. Now, as the titular entity and his minions which take the shape and form of twisted versions of holiday staples rain down terror upon this shattered family unit, we see that they will be reluctantly forced to work together if they want even a ho ho ho hope in heck for making through this chilling winter’s night in one piece….

Now right off the bat it should be noted that for about the first 30 minutes of this slice of cinema, give or take, Krampus most assuredly fits the bill for being the wonderfully contemporary and quite pessimistic holiday comedy that movie goers have started to expect to see pop up in theaters at least once here for quite some time. Yet just when it looks like you are going to get a holiday outing in the vein of something like Bad Santa, we see that the rug is then swiftly pulled out from under us as movie goers courtesy of the arrival of the titular being and his group of twisted holiday minions including blood thirsty jack in the boxes, demented gingerbread men, and some elves who might need a good razor among others thus making this film feel more like something akin to 1984’s Gremlins or even 1981’s An American Werewolf in London than anything. Yet even though there is no doubt that Krampus and his minions are undoubtedly the stuff that chilling nightmares are made of, it should also be said that there is also something twistedly amusing about this being. This is because to a lot of people, Christmas is meant to be a period where we exhibit happiness and positive emotions toward each other so there is very much a cognitive clash on display whenever a creative mind partners it up with something that is quite ominous and sinister. Props then to this slice of cinema’s helmer/co-scribe Michael Dougherty for being brilliantly aware that such a clash could provide a healthy dose of dark comedy if utilized right and as a result gave us a odd yet delightful slice of cinema that is so funny it’s scary and vice versa. A creative choice that more or less somehow manages to work quite well. Yet besides the work done by this slice of cinema’s helmer, I also think that props must be given to the squad of creature creators as the critters they give us here manage to be both genuinely spooky yet also slightly playful all rolled into one. Indeed, the blood thirsty jack in the box in this is a brilliant showcase for this concept as by being part toy and part Predator it manages to be a thing that will haunt your nightmares long after this slice of cinema is over. Yet just like with the titular entity, he is so over-the-top in how wicked it is, you ultimately find yourself unable to do much but chuckle even as it leaves you on the edge of your seat. Finally, I guess I should also point out that it was also a wee bit brilliant to not only make this a story featuring this creature in a pointed critique of how the idea of the traditional American family is one that is running the risk of going extinct, but also in how it’s willing to be as nihilistic as it needs to be in terms of both its story and the characters themselves. Indeed, without saying too much, I think it can be safely said that there are other monsters in this besides Krampus and his minions. Praise then must be given to this film’s helmer for never once choosing to yield to the more positive path this film could have taken and instead stays on the path that he wanted to take this slice of cinema on from beginning to end.

Also aiding things is the immensely talented cast of performers that the film has assembled in front of the camera as well. This starts with a terrific turn by young actor Emjay Anthony in the role of the film’s de-facto main character of sorts Max. Indeed, as portrayed by Anthony, Max might possess the most in terms of optimism in this family to say nothing of being the one who treasures the Christmas season the most, but he is also the one who is the most innocent as well. Yet whereas in some films that innocence might be a character flaw that is not the case here since as the film goes on, we see that not only does Max grow as a person, but the arc that he undergoes in this is pretty intriguing for reasons I shan’t spoil here. Suffice it to say that it is a fantastic performance from a young actor I can’t wait to see more performances from in the future. Unfortunately, whilst the other young actors all also do good work I must confess that more often than not there is a caveat to their performances here. That caveat being that either they are just playing their respective characters like archetypes we have seen countless times in slices of cinema similar to this or they are just being genuinely unbearable and not really worthy of either following throughout this or caring about in the slightest when chaos finally hits the winter fan and the family is pushed into action. Thankfully making up for that slight flaw however is the adult cast of characters made up of several talented character actors of the finest caliber. The first of these is the always delightful Adam Scott as Engel family patriarch Tom. Indeed ever since his role as Ben Wyatt in Parks and Rec, I have found Scott to be a wonderfully gifted comedic talent and yes he does get to show off a bit of his comedy chops. At the same time though, Scott also does a wonderful job at not only playing a devoted father who genuinely cares about his kids and their feelings, but also in showing his wife’s family why their impression of him as “wimpy” might not entirely be accurate. Working in synch with the work done by Scott is the equally as wonderfully whenever she pops up in something Toni Collette as Engel matriarch Sarah. Indeed Collete has always been an underrated talent in my opinion and here not only do she and Scott have fantastic chemistry, but she also does a great job at playing a mom pushed to the brink of madness by her family year after year only to find herself having to actually work alongside these people in order to survive the night. Out of everyone in the adult cast though, the two MVPs without a doubt in my mind would have to be David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell respectively. Indeed not only are these two pitch perfect choices for their respective parts, but they also manage to bring the most laughs and even get a fair bit of development to them as well as the film goes along. Suffice it to say that not only do the majority of the characters in this actually get a wonderful degree of both characterization and development that not once ever gives off the vibe of being shoehorned in or too much, but again the majority all prove to be fantastically constructed by the skilled cast of players portraying them and each is given their own distinct moment to shine throughout the movie’s 97-minute runtime.

All in all is the 2015 slice of cinema Krampus a bonafide Christmas masterpiece? Honestly no, but please tell people that at holiday parties. I promise you will get at least one person to laugh at what you just said. At the same time however, is this the absolute worst in terms of cinematic offerings that this iconic season has ever seen fit to give us? Oh heck no. Trust me when I say that there are worse out there. A lot worse. Thus think of this slice of cinema in this way if nothing else: this is one holiday slice of cinema that is actually needed. Sure, It’s a Wonderful Life shows us the joys of a man discovering just how much meaning his life has to say nothing of rediscovering the will to live and his guardian angel breaking the time-space continuum, but this movie shows us a family rediscovering how much they all mean to one another…. whilst fighting off blood thirsty Jack in the Boxes. Sure, The Grinch has a green hairy monster at the heart of it, but at the same time he also turns into a bit of a softy by the end of things. This one has a giant hairy demonic entity whose heart may not grow 2-3 sizes, but who is always ready to engage in un-silent night levels of terror whilst also making you laugh at just how darkly comic this situation really is. Sure, the film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation shows us the comic side to the most dysfunctional family this side of the one in Modern Family having to survive each other through a particularly hectic holiday season. This film though shows us a similar in terms of dysfunction levels family, but then pits them in an epic battle for survival that has literal life or death stakes attached to it. Suffice it to say that while yes, the world does need slices of cinema like the ones previously mentioned among others including White Christmas and Elf, it also needs ones like this, Die Hard, The Night Before, and Gremlins to help spice things up and show us that not every Christmas movie has to play out like something you could see made with a lot less time, on a much lower budget, and thus transformed into a holiday “movie” you might see on the Hallmark Channel. Thus, the cast of character actors all give fairly good performances, the work done behind the camera is dependably solid, and the end result is a new Christmas gem that once the kids (under 8-9 preferably, but to each their own) are asleep waiting on Santa, you can put in and enjoy with glee. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Krampus “2015” a solid 3.5 out of 5.


1 Comment

  1. Ann

    I like this movie, have a copy of it on dvd. It’s been a few years since I watched it, but it was on the list to watch a couple weeks ago when I put up the tree. It was in the pile with Die Hard, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon, and Christmas with the Kranks (Skipping Christmas)

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