The holidays are supposed to be a happy time, and “Krampus” is here to make sure you remember that. No materialism, no pettiness, no familial squabbling – do any of that and St. Nicholas’s shadow, the not-nice demon with horns and claws, will remind you of the spirit of the season. And in the horror comedy “Krampus,” it will probably remind you right before it kills you.
Horror comedy “Krampus” doesn’t really hide its intentions: The film from genre director Michael Dougherty, who also co-wrote the script, gets to the point early, which is that Christmas has lost its original spirit as we’ve all become shopaholic, rude jerks who can barely understand or exhibit human kindness. The movie begins with a scene of shopping chaos – people at a mall practically tearing each other apart over meaningless retail crap – and then transitions into suburban frustration, with a focus on young teenager Max (Emjay Anthony), who still believes in Santa Claus.
Sure, he’s getting old for it. But no one in his family seems to pay him any attention. His parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), are clearly unhappy in their marriage, thoroughly resentful of each other. Older sister Beth (Stefania LaVie) should be an ally against their parents’ obviously splintering relationship, but she’s too consumed with her cellphone and her boyfriend. And Max's extended family who come to visit three days before Christmas, with bullying cousins and a grossly right-wing uncle, are almost intolerable.
So in a fit of anger, and full of hatred for his family, Max tears up his letter to Santa Claus and throws it out the window. Almost immediately, a snowstorm materializes – and in it rides the demon Krampus, with a bevy of evil minions to punish Max’s family for their terrible ways. Shocked to realize that he essentially summoned Krampus, Max turns to his grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler), who during her German childhood was intimately acquainted with the folklore surrounding the Alpine demon. Can they fight Krampus, so intent on taking them all into the underworld? Or is there some kind of redemptive lesson that will save them from his eternal punishment?
“Krampus” isn’t a nuanced movie in terms of character development – everyone here is broadly sketched, particularly David Koechner’s super-right-wing, pro-gun, Republican-parody Uncle Howard – but the film does deliver a few narrative surprises that keep audiences on their toes. The dark comedy is very, very dark, and unless you can laugh at the absurdity of ungrateful teens getting eaten by monstrous Jack in the Box toys or bullying cousins being carried off by evil elves, “Krampus” isn’t for you. But the film’s glee in upending our typical ideas of Christmas fun and using them to service a somewhat anti-capitalist, anti-mainstream ideology is infectious.
… Well, at least until the end of “Krampus,” which is so inarguably bleak that it puts a dour end to the film, which before then only seems to play around with the idea of bad people getting their comeuppance. When “Krampus” goes full cynical, it loses some of its power in exchange for a full rejection of everything we hold dear and sentimental during the holidays. If you approve of that criticism, “Krampus” will indulge your grumpiness – but for everyone else, this dark comedy might end up being too dark.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Guttenbergs