Horror/Fantasy, 98 Minutes, 2015
Some people get down around the holidays. The influx of annoying relatives is an inconvenience; an intrusion into their ordered lives. Some are simply jaded and can’t see why others get so excited; presents are nice and all, but do we need all the hoopla? This movie dares to declare: “Hey! If you don’t like Christmas, you and your family should be brutally murdered!”
Young Max (Emjay Anthony [IMDB]) is a Christmas junkie. He loves everything about it. Trimming the tree, wrapping the presents and roasting chestnuts by an open fire. Although he’s getting a bit too old for it, he also doggedly maintains his habits when it comes to comes to one S. Claus. Letters, cookies and milk left on the mantle: the works.
Sadly, his family has been drifting apart and aren’t embracing the holiday as they used to. His parents (Adam Scott [IMDB] and Toni Collette [IMDB]) are on edge, awaiting the invasion of his aunt and uncle (Allison Tolman [IMDB] and David Koechner [IMDB]), their brood of annoying cousins and a surprise guest, professional pain-in-the-ass Great Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell [IMDB]).
As predicted, the visit heads South almost immediately. Max is embarrassed by his cousins and he tearfully denounces Christmas, tears up his letter to Santa and declares himself a born-again Scrooge. Shortly after, a freak storm rolls in and kills the power, the phones and destroys what little civility was left in the house. Max has, you see, inadvertently summoned Krampus, an ancient demon spirit of Christmas vengeance who, apparently, murders your family if you have a bad day.
It’s a scary movie, but still a family friendly one. The idea, of course, is that Krampus forces his victims to stop taking what they have for granted. Max wasn’t doing that, but he still spends a night in abject terror watching his loved ones die horribly. His family was also making an effort: big Christmas dinner with relatives, gifts and all the trimmings. Too bad they were a little grumpy: they’re dead.
The movie hits its real stride during the action sequences. These are fun, hectic and well choreographed. Krampus favors, as you might expect, holiday themed torments. Deranged gingerbread men, horrific jack-in-the-boxes and demented toys supplement his standing army of deformed elves. The solid, likable cast sells the “regular folk stepping up and kicking ass” thing very well.
The effects, all practical, are gorgeous, but tend towards simplicity. Krampus, a twisted parody of St. Nick, has no animation in his face at all. His mouth is permanently agape, his eye sockets forever sagging open. His minions fare better, but it was disappointing to see the main draw rendered so lifelessly.
[Minor spoiler ahead.]
Despite the entire movie clearly building up to it, we never see Santa. Instead we get a decent, if predictable moralistic ending that’s immediately tainted by a silly twist. The movie wants, very badly, to be the new Gremlins [IMDB]. Fans of that classic should enjoy this, but there are too many missteps keeping it from the same level. It’s a fun ride, and well worth a look, just don’t expect it to become a holiday staple.