Monday, December 28, 2015

"Krampus" Review: This Holiday Treat Is Both Naughty And Nice


Way back in 2008 writer/director Michael Dougherty created what is arguably one of the best Halloween movies ever made with Trick R' Treat. Equal parts horror and comedy, the film was largely successful due how it cleverly took established Halloween traditions and turned them on their head. Now 7 years later Dougherty has delivered his sophmore effort with a new horror comedy targeting the magical season of giving, Christmas. Can lighting strike twice or more importantly, will it find an audience to help make it successful? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital             
Film Rating: Unrated (likely PG-13)
Film Runtime:  1 hr 38 min
Studio: Disney Pictures
Release Date: December 18, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Trick R Treat
Likes: Christmas films with a bite...literally, horror/comedies
Neutral: All the fake out endings
Hates: Nothing
What holiday should Dougherty tackle next?: How about Easter with a rabid bunny delivering eggs of death?


Christmas Eve is only a few days away and while most family's enjoy getting together for the holidays that isn't the case for poor Max (Emjay Anthoy) and his dysfunctional family. While his parents Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) struggle to mend their fractured marriage and his older sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) swoons over her boyfriend, Max and his grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) try to keep the Christmas spirit alive. When their relatives arrive however everything is ruined when Max's letter to Santa Claus is read aloud during dinner causing him to tear it apart in a fit of anger and frustration. Just as Max's Christmas wish is destroyed a sudden blizzard blows into town bringing with it an evil spirit who has come take instead of give this holiday season.

Krampus is one of those films where you can see each and every point that had the wrong decision been made the entire production would have collapsed in on itself. Luckily that never happens and in this case just about every decision made when it comes to tone and characters, something the horror/comedy genre is notorious for getting wrong, is generally spot on. Actually, the word general is fairly apt when talking about the basic outline for the film which is based around your stereotypical American family unit, albeit highly dysfunctional. From the parents going through a difficult time in their marriage, the troubled son who likes to get into fights, the older daughter who swoons over her boyfriend and the wise grandmother who holds a dark secret. just about every archetype is covered.


As a matter of fact you can see hints of families like those found in other films like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation and any number of dysfunctional holiday get togethers in Krampus. That is including the introduction of the abrassive relatives who show up and aside from being family are clearly unwelcomed. The Christmas Vacation parallels are really evident with the visiting relatives having more than a few similarities such as Uncle Howard (David Koechner) being the Cousin Eddy of this story and his family resembling an obvious form of trailer trash but more in spirit than appearance. Heck, they even have an Aunt Edna type with the character Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). But for all the generic set up and deceptively one note characterizations though Krampus is just setting the stage for what is arguably one of the best holiday horror/comedy films released since the original Gremlins.

That comparison is not made lightly as Gremlins is widely considered the holy grail when it comes to holiday horror/comedies and has never been dethroned or even challenged...until now. The same devilish charm and whimsy that made Dougherty's Trick R' Treat such a delight is in full effect in Krampus and even trumps that effort in more ways than one. While Trick R' Treat was a lot of fun you never really got invested in any of the characters which was more due to the multiple story structure used and not really a failing of any sort, it picked a style and did it extremely well. However, with Krampus Dougherty shows that when having to deal with the same characters for the entire length of the film he knows how to get the audience invested in their story.


You won't find anyone hailing any of these characters as amazing or even all that memorable in the grand scheme of things, but while watching the film you do feel a certain sense of compassion for them, especially when the characters we thought were complete tools emerge as someone we empathize with. What really sells their transformations though is as strange as this might sound for this type of film they form the very same family bond that young Max was initially wishing for as they struggle to stay alive and it is that little bit of familial strength we see take shape that helps all the characters avoid becoming loathesome which is a success in itself considering how annoying most of them were at the outset.

The family theme and characters are all well and fine but the real meat of the film for most is going to be the central figure of the film, Krampus. There is no need to go into the mythology for the dark spirit other than to say if he shows up you are pretty much screwed, but what does need some discussion and praise is just how well he was used here. It would have been all too easy to make Krampus the next Freddy or Jason, but Dougherty used him as this evil force of nature that we almost never get a good look. He is something more akin to a mystical spirit that punishes those who lose their faith in the magic of Christmas as opposed to a monster stalking his prey which is in keeping with his film Trick R' Treat that also featured a vengeful spirit but for Halloween.


For any who may be turned off by the notion that the film might be scary or grotesque let me just ease your worries. Krampus' style of horror is more whimsical than anything else and filled mostly with mischief. You don't see anyone get torn apart, eaten (well, sort of I guess) or otherwise maimed in any way which would have been a big mistake if that had been the direction the film headed down. For any naysayers towards the lack of gore or scares let's just say that there are still some rather unpleasant events that happen over the course of the film, with the most elaborate featuring a jack in the box/snake monster hybrid that swallows people whole that should provide any thriller seekers plenty of fantastical frights. All of Krampus' little helpers are fun in their own way, even the squad of evil gingerbread men.

There was a moment of concern that did pop up though. Usually when a film is running on all cylinders like Krampus does it becomes increasingly important how it ends. Isn't how all films end important though? Yes, but when a film is inconsistent in its quality you tend to not worry as much how it ends, in fact if it ends well it can actually make a mediocre film into something great (see Arlington Road). But much like watching a gymnist perform a flawless routine, none of it matters if they can't stick that landing. Aside from a couple of moments when it looked as if they film was about to go rotten (with what I can only assume were intentional misdirects), Krampus delivers with an ending that finds that oh so delicate balance between heartwarming and devious without ever feeling cheap and that is without a doubt the greatest achievement of the entire film.


It's difficult to know how your average movie goer will react to Krampus as horror/comedies are already a difficult sell let alone one that takes place and is released during Christmas. Dougherty's last film never made it to theaters and went on to become a cult hit and an instant Halloween classic and it would be nice if his first theatrical release shared the same success. While the jury is still out on Krampus (it takes a couple years after release to really call anything a classic), there is no doubt that anyone looking for a devilish good time at the movies this Christmas will come away pleased with this holiday season's most unexpected gift.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why, Krampus is coming to town and if he has your name on his naughty list he aims to collect. See Krampus and discover what will hopefully become a new holiday tradition.

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