Christmas is for children. It’s the kind of sentiment expressed by those who see the holiday as an obligation: Buying presents for people you barely know or don’t like that much because it is expected of you. You must wade into massive crowds of people doing exactly the same thing you are, choosing to purchase anything that might be considered appropriate just to check a name off a list, spending your last dime and/or going into more debt, not out of the spirit of giving but a sense of requirement. While a few people may be able to find some joy in this orgy of consumerism, most feel their soul die a little bit and can’t wait for it to be over. This can lead to an outright death of the Christmas Spirit which opens the door to something much darker: Krampus.
Max (Emjay Anthony) is the youngest child of Tom and Sarah (Adam Scott and Toni Collette). It’s almost Christmas and Max wants everyone to enjoy the traditions he’s remembered all his life. Sadly the pressures of preparing for Sarah’s sister Linda and her husband Howard (Allison Tolman and David Koechner) and their four kids and bulldog has sapped the joy from both his parents. His sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) just wants to leave everyone behind and be with her stoner boyfriend. The only person who seems to have any Christmas Spirit is his German grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) as she continues to bake cookies and other treats in the kitchen. The big dinner with the whole family, and the surprise edition of crusty Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), turns into a catastrophe when a couple of Howard’s kids get a hold of Max’s letter to Santa Claus, reading it out loud at the table and exposing some of the barely hidden cracks in both families. Max attacks his cousins and gets the letter back. Later in his room, Max tears up the letter in disgust and throws it out the window where it is sucked up into the sky by a sudden violent wind. Almost immediately a blizzard begins and the power goes out. Everyone assumes the lights will be back on soon but Omi knows something much more ominous is heading their way to punish them for their lack of Christmas Spirit.
“Krampus” is possibly the new American holiday classic that will not be that popular in its initial release but will find a second life and cult following on cable in future years. The opening scenes of chaos at a big box store (customers fighting over stuffed animals, trampling each other, getting tazered by security officers, crying children huddled under Christmas trees) all shown in slow motion and set to a Bing Crosby holiday song could be the stock footage shown on the news on Black Friday. Christmas seems to bring the worst out of some people who are perfectly normal and pleasant any other time of the year. “Krampus” is the kind of movie Fox News would attack as being part of the “War on Christmas” when in fact it is an indictment of consumerism and letting the spirit of the holiday be extinguished by all the peripheral garbage we’ve added on to it.
Everything about the families in “Krampus” screams success: Tom and Sarah have a big, comfortable house that is tastefully furnished, Howard and Linda drive a massive Hummer and their kids are involved in sports both as participants and as fans. Howard even makes a crack about how Tom and Sarah are rich. Despite their apparent monetary success, neither family is shown as being satisfied. Both are examples of the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Max is the character that exemplifies the innocence of youth and, by extension, the desire of the audience to be returned to a simpler time as shown in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas.” Max also shows how that’s impossible and sets off the events that lead to the arrival of Krampus and his evil minions.
While I enjoyed the film and the performances of the excellent cast, I don’t think the filmmakers went as far as they needed to with either the horror or the humor. While the movie features a massive monster you never get a really good look at along with other nasty creatures including deadly gingerbread cookie men, there isn’t really anything scary about the movie. Some scenes promise a fright with a tense build up but the payoffs are rather mild and nothing gets the pulse racing. With several cast members known for their humorous roles, the film is largely devoid of any major laughs as well. Oddly enough the character that most consistently delivers a funny line is Conchata Ferrell’s Aunt Dorothy. She’s ready with a zinger at just about every turn. Even her last line during one of the major action scenes is designed for a laugh. Sadly, the funny isn’t as consistently delivered by the rest of the cast. I understand that considering it’s supposed to be a horror movie; however, the scary isn’t there as much as it needs to be either so the absence of each amplifies the need for both.
“Krampus” is rated PG-13 for some drug material, sequences of horror violence, language and terror. A bong is shown in one scene. There are a couple of scenes where something is under the snow chasing a character and dragging them under with the sound of a “chomp.” We see various scary looking creatures chasing and capturing family members. Guns are fired at various times at the creatures. A Christmas tree gets set on fire nearly destroying the house. Foul language is scattered but there is on “F-bomb.”
I identify with the feelings of young Max in “Krampus” a bit too closely for comfort. I would like to experience the same wonder I did as a child and as a young adult for that matter at the sight of a Christmas tree, the joy from hearing the first holiday song and the tingle of anticipation as the gifts would begin to stack up under the tree. I’m afraid all that is lost to me now as the hassle of crowds in stores and the mounting pressure of how to pay for all the holiday cheer has turned me into a coldhearted grown up. I suppose I’d best prepare my wife for the arrival of the shadow of St. Nicholas and to just accept the consequences. You, on the other hand, can save yourself by making a donation to the charity of your choice instead of buying a couple of needless Christmas gifts for someone who doesn’t want or need anything.
“Krampus” gets four stars out of five.
Only one new film in wide release this week as we prepare for the craziness that is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I’ll be seeing and reviewing “In the Heart of the Sea.”
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