Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s a crisp chill in the air. Shopping malls are crowded. Airports and highways are clogged with travelers. Stress is building. ‘Tis the Christmas season! Though we’re used to seeing warm, poignant and heartwarming tales about family coming together and loving portraits of St. Nick, director Michael Dougherty gifts us with somewhat of an antidote to all those features with KRAMPUS. The holiday-themed horror’s obscure titular character hails from Germanic folklore, and is long overdue for a reckoning with humanity, which as we all know, has become “the worst.” It’s deviously satirical, entertaining, fun and – best of all – brisk.
Max (Emjay Anthony) is an idealistic youngster who still believes in Santa Claus and embodies the true, hopeful Christmas spirit. However, with his Martha Stewart-esque mother Sarah (Toni Collette) squabbling with both his workaholic father Tom (Adam Scott), and disaffected teen sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), the holidays are shaping up to be horrendous. Thank God he’s got his German grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) around to console him. Little does he know, it’s gonna get worse. All hell breaks loose upon the arrival of his great Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), Cousin Eddie Uncle Howard (David Koechner) and four bullying cousins. Growing more disillusioned, he curses Christmas, ripping up his thoughtful letter to Santa and tossing it into the breeze. However, this defiant act summons a malevolent demon in St. Nick’s place – Krampus, the horned, hoofed and haggard shadow of the benevolent spirit.
Christmas films like A CHRISTMAS CAROL, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and A CHRISTMAS STORY contain life-affirming sentiments to cherish. In that regard, KRAMPUS doesn’t differ all that much from those. The takeaway here is that we shouldn’t forget what the holiday is really about: sacrifice and honesty. Its message is wrapped in a thought-provoking package, delivered in a tongue-and-cheek way so it’s not too heavy or dark. Opening on the mad chaos of stampeding shoppers holds a mirror up to society – as does the portrayal of the family who puts a happy face on their fractured lives. If this inspires familial discussions, then thank you to the filmmakers. Should we also bill them for our therapists? Ghosts of Christmas classics past that reverberate also include GREMLINS (with the devilish imps and elves that wreak havoc on Max’s family) and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (with Sarah’s sister’s boorish family).
Dougherty, along with screenwriters Todd Casey and Zach Shields, blends tropes from horror and holiday films rather fluidly, making us believe they go hand in hand when you’d otherwise think not. It also says a lot when you root for these horrible people to survive versus delighting in their demise. That sneaks up on you. The creature reveal is pretty solid; snow obscures him during his entrance, hopping from rooftop to rooftop. Minutes later, he’s shielded by a snowplow, with only his large cloven hoofs illuminated. Similar to the shark in JAWS, he’s a foreboding presence until we see him in his glory during the third act. Creature effects, provided by Weta Workshops, are spirited and bring in a throwback vibe. The Consumer Product Safety Commission will have a field day with all the dangerous toys lurking in the attic. But perhaps the most remarkable sequence is when Omi tells the family of her personal connection to the beast. That’s when beautiful (abeit brief) animation ensues – a mix of silhouettes and stop-motion.
By tale’s end, the narrative may have unraveled a bit, but there’s value to this present not being tied up in a pristine bow.
KRAMPUS opens on December 4.