★★ / ★★★★
The opening credit sequence of “Krampus,” a horror-comedy directed by Michael Dougherty, is right on target about what is fundamentally wrong about the holiday, must-have-it-all season these days, one cannot help but be very excited for the rest of the film. Not one word is uttered—aside from a classic Yuletide carol serving as the soundtrack—but the images are so vivid, so funny, one suspects that the material has many more tricks and social commentaries up its sleeve.
It is a disappointment, then, that the film does not deliver more on that front. Although the story involves an unhappy get-together between two families days before and during Christmas, one of the families is not spoiled and rotten enough as to create a strong enough polarity and create dramatic gravity off their rather unique situation. When the youngest son of Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom (Adam Scott) named Max (Emjay Anthony) begins to lose faith in the spirit of Christmas, an ancient spirit called Krampus and his monstrous pals pay the household a visit. Each member of the family is taken and presumably killed.
What the picture does best is showcasing images that are not computer generated. While a number of CGI is utilized in the film—like a cloaked figure with hooves jumping from one roof after another and murderous gingerbread cookies—most curious and terrifying are real and tactile imagery such as a giant jack-in-the-box with a massive mouth and shark-like teeth and cloaked figures that are supposed to be dark elves who look like they came right off a Kubrick-inspired play. Humor can be found in these images.
This Joe Dante-inspired material ought to have focused more on the personalities and dynamics of the children. They have such an ordinary look about them that target audiences—pre-teens and young teenagers—are likely to find them accessible. However, because Max, his sister, and three cousins are not explored enough, especially having them relate or engage in conflict during scenes with no adults around, the message meant for the young generation about the value of retaining the spirit of giving during the holidays ends up rather off-target.
Written by Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields, “Krampus” offers more moments than is necessary for a horror film—or any genre—where characters simply sit around and exchange platitudes. Collette is arguably the one best able to break away from expressing frustration through ordinary dialogue because she tends to give her characters specific behaviors. Sarah might be saying something nice on the surface but notice how she rolls her eyes between certain pauses. We wonder if Sarah does such a thing out of habit because hosting Christmas in her home is just too much pressure or does she not really mean what she says?
The picture gets a marginal recommendation from me with significant reservation for reasons mentioned previously. In addition, in horror movies, even horror-comedies, I usually must walk away and remember at least three sequences that are so well-executed, it makes me want to revisit the material right away. Here, I was only able to remember two vividly: the chimney scene because it starts off quiet and then becomes chaotic mere seconds later and the giant jack-in-the-box scene that must be seen to be believed. And come to think of it, the animated flashback with Grandma (Krista Stadler) as a little girl is a lovely surprise, too.