The opening sequence of Krampus is delightful. An instant, visual judgement of consumerist Christmas, wrapped up in a cynical bow. Overweight Americans thunder down the aisles of supermarkets, children sob their hearts out on Santa’s lap and others, dressed up as shepherds and angels, attempt to punch the life out of one another. In a suburban paradise, rivalled only by the hideous wealth and residential luxury of Home Alone, an elderly grandmother bakes gingerbread men. The rest of her family soon tumble through the front door, a pile of fury and frustration in the face of the holiday season. Following the arrival of their loud-mouthed extended family, we find ourselves in a chaotic world somewhere between Christmas Vacation and, once again, Home Alone (Christmas is soon approaching and my ability to conjure up cinematic comparisons is slightly reduced due to tiredness and sheer laziness). Young Max, amidst all the ignorance, greed and tension, turns his back on the season to be jolly. His attitude provokes and awakens the evil spirit Krampus, the shadow of St. Nicholas who comes to torment and torture the family. Director Michael Dougherty’s second feature is creepy and comical but has more in common with Gremlins than Black Christmas. There are moments of brilliance which are weakened by the film’s vague premise and limited laughs. An hour into Krampus you’ll find yourself wishing the film was still exploring the scepticism of its opening minutes. The film contradicts itself on multiple occasions as it indulges in the demonic events that unfold. I too indulged – but I just wish it all came with a bit more intelligence. Watching Krampus is a bit like tucking into a chocolate yoghurt when all you really want is a gooey Mars bar; certainly enjoyable but lacking the real stodge you crave.
We’re greeted by Toni Collette and Adam Scott as the key parental figures at the film’s centre. Although it’s always nice to see them both, it’s a struggle to take against them – and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to. They’re good parents who have become overwhelmed by the pressures of Christmas, making it difficult to understand how we’re meant to feel about them – perhaps their likeability is supposed to be ambiguous. I’m more than happy for a film to let me make up my own mind about its characters but there’s just a bit too much ambiguity running through almost all of Krampus, resulting in a truly mixed bag of gifts. The humour is faint, as is the overall horror. There are plenty of scares, some quite cleverly constructed but not enough actual creepiness. I jumped multiple times but never quite shuddered with fear. At times Krampus has a lot in common with fantasy greats such as Labyrinth. Krampus is wise enough to trust in the power of the puppet, making for a wonderfully authentic and much more satisfying visual experience. There are digital effects aplenty but these are never over used or forced to compensate for the lack of the physical effect. Despite its many commendable attributes, Krampus struggles to find its hoof-like footing. It’s oddly paced and narratively damaged – resulting in a bewildering but perfectly entertaining experience. I respect the ambition and intention behind Krampus but can’t say I’m won over by the end result.
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