Overview: An ancient evil from Alpine folklore haunts a family as they prepare to celebrate Christmas. You’ll never look at a Jack in the Box the same. Universal Pictures; Rated PG-13; 2015; 98 minutes.
Relatives Roasting on an Open Fire: In Krampus, Emjay Anthony stars as Max, a frustrated child growing out of what is considered “age appropriate” for believing in Santa Claus. The performance he gives is one of the best of the year. Max has to be flustered, optimistic, terrified, and doubtful, sometimes within the span of a single scene. This kid is going to be around for a while.
Adam Scott and Toni Collette get to play the easier-to-root for parents Tom and Sarah. Collette can play this role in her sleep but she still brings a warm nurturing performance to a character who spends a majority of the opening frazzled by the surprise visit of a drunken aunt. Scott is a standout movie dad, a calm man who grows to be a fighter while still retaining his heart. You will wish Adam Scott was your father by the end of this. Adam, if you’re reading this please adopt me.
What caught me off guard was the surprising humanity added to the absurdly annoying relatives. David Koechner plays the loud-mouthed uncle whose alpha male tendencies rub Scott’s character Tom in all the wrong ways, and encourages his daughters to bully Max. Allison Tolman plays Linda, Sarah’s kindly sister, who doesn’t encourage the rowdy behavior of her children but doesn’t negate it either. As the movie barrels toward its sinister underpinnings, these characters show a shocking amount of empathy. Sure they’ll forget about their baby in their truck for a quick minute, or Conchata Ferrell’s Aunt Dorothy will make off-hand remarks about decorative processes, but they’re not bad people at heart. They just aren’t well-mannered or respectable. Once that is made clear, we start to feel for the family as they face off against the horned and hooved Christmas monstrosity.
Krampus is Coming to Town: There’s a clear influence from Amblin Entertainment with not only a focus on child actors (who are all quite good). Atop of that influence, Director Michael Dougherty and his writing partners Zach Shields and Todd Casey present clear stakes with congruent themes. You grow to care about each of the family members. Krampus is through and through a Christmas movie (albeit, one that would sit more comfortably alongside Gremlins than Frosty the Snowman but a Christmas movie nonetheless). But when the kills start stacking up, the ugliness within is revealed.
Yeah, Krampus is an ugly movie. Even with the PG-13 rating there is imagery and creature design that might later require a stiffer spike in your egg nog. Gingerbread men (from hell) and a teddy bear (also from hell) border Looney Tunes level of ludicrous hilarity and somehow maintain the right amount of terror. The Jack in the Box is just flat out terrifying and left my stomach in knots. There’s enough family spirit in the movie to warrant bringing a junior high student if they’re a blossoming cynical bastard or if they have already learned to enjoy well-made horror.
He Sees You When You’re Sleeping: I’m unfamiliar with Michael Dougherty’s previous acclaimed holiday horror Trick’R’Treat, but trust me when I tell you this director is the real deal. In Krampus, Dougherty summons a balancing act among the likes of Joe Dante blending Christmas cheer with the cynical nature of a truly dark and atmospheric horror film (I’m not the first one to make a Gremlins comparison and I won’t be the last). What makes Krampus especially entertaining is it not only works in harmony with both tonal spectrums, it requires them.
Be Good for F***s Sake: I love the Old Testament brutality to Krampus. “Cherish your loved ones and keep the spirit of Christmas alive! … or get dragged to hell by sickening manifestations of traditional holiday yuletides.” Krampus just wants to remind you to be good, for goodness sakes. Believe me, by the time the ride is over, you’ll want to spread as much Christmas cheer as possible.