Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home. (Source)
Krampus is one hell of a good time, unabashedly set apart from almost every horror release this year thanks to its distinct, throwback vibe and inventive confidence from writer/director Michael Dougherty. Those unfamiliar with the titular European anti-Claus’ will definitely fear a visit from the legendary monster when the film’s over, as Dougherty schools his horror contemporaries to create a new Christmas classic.
Taking place in the days leading up to Christmas, Max (Emjay Anthony) dreads having to spend another holiday with his family arguing constantly and pretending to enjoy spending time with one another. His dad Tom (Adam Scott) can’t seem to disconnect from work, his mother Sarah (Toni Collete) is trying to create a facade of perfection to put over their family, and his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) wants to spend all of her time with her boyfriend. To make matters worse, Sarah’s sister Linda brings her entire annoying family over, and that’s when things hit a tipping point. Max finally loses his last string of patience and tears up an apologetic note he’d written to Santa Claus. Lashing out, he unwittingly unleashes a dark, sinister power that’ll make him regret the terrible things he’s wished upon his family.
One of the film’s most distinguishing marks is its PG-13 rating – don’t be fooled by it. It’s loud, scary, extremely dark and carries surprising weight. There’s a jack-in-the-box monster that’ll give little kids nightmares, a host of dark elves who keep us on our toes and the titular creature is smartly designed, blending the Krampus’ mythological trademarks with Saint Nick’s iconography for a fun blend of holiday frights. Saying more would be giving away too much, but when all the monsters are revealed on screen, they’re downright terrifying. As in his previous film, Trick ‘r Treat, Dougherty again uses his comic book background to display a visual style steeped in atmosphere and substance. Most importantly however, instead of violently torturing his characters or shocking the audience with empty gore and vulgarity, he accentuates the suppressed emotions that surface during the holidays to examine the ways we lose touch of family and take them for granted. Simply put, this is a film that is more at home with movies like the original Poltergeist or Gremlins than modern fare like Saw or Paranormal Activity.
The film’s shifting tone also showcases Dougherty’s chops as a writer, scaring us one moment and then turning right around to make us laugh the next. This is aided by Dougherty making full use of his all-star cast in the film’s relatively short runtime, a worthy effort which balances so many disparate voices with ease. Adam Scott and Toni Collete as Max’s parents are invaluable right from the very start of the film. David Koechner and Tolman, who play the obnoxious relatives also create characters that are somehow endearing despite playing terrible human beings.
Incredible writing, acting and a seamless blend of practical effects come together to create one of the scariest movies of the year. The second act even contains an unexpected surprise, paying homage to the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas specials everyone knows so well, and it contrasts cleverly with the overall tone of the film. Krampus is a unique horror film that refreshingly feels out of time with the current standards and expectations of modern horror films. Its biggest achievement is that it inspires not only a genuine sense of terror, but one of wonder and excitement, giving us the a holiday horror film we didn’t even know we wanted.