Film Review: Krampus (★★)

krampus_ver3After how much I enjoyed filmmaker Michael Dougherty‘s horror title Trick ‘r Treat, I was really looking forward to Krampus, his take on the urban legend/fairly tale character that’s gotten popular recently. Sadly, while I really appreciate his attempt to make a Joe Dante style B movie horror comedy, this film just doesn’t really work. The initial idea is solid, some of the execution is clever, and there are moments where you see how this could have been a holiday delight, but the mixture just never becomes anything fully palatable. From not really giving cast members like Toni Collette and Adam Scott much to do, pulling some punches to get a PG-13 rating (though I confess it’s fairly intense for the most part and probably too scary for kids), to losing control of tone in the second half, Krampus more often than not just disappointing. I suppose for some it might be a future cult classic and it probably will have a long life on television as a Christmas season alternative pick, but the final product just plain should have been better. Unable to fully commit to a horror comedy premise, Doughterty’s flick wants to be a next generation Gremlins but it never comes close. Essentially, Krampus has delusions of cinematic grandeur, acting like it’s alwaydy a classic before earning that distinction. What a missed opportunity this is…

For those who don’t know, the title character is essentially a Christmas demon, and anti Santa, if you will, who punishes those who lose the holiday spirit. For young Max (Emjay Anthony), a bad holiday this year is the last straw for him, resulting in his first dismissal of the holiday. His family is your garden variety movie dysfunctional family, with a workaholic dad Tom (Scott), perfectionist mother Sarah (Collette), bored sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), boorish Uncle Howard (David Koechner), aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), and so on, with only his foreign grandmother (Krista Stadler) a kindred spirit. With his cousins and such in town, the stress level is high, and when it reaches a breaking point, he tears up his letter to Santa. That eventually summons Krampus and his band of Christmas themed demons, who bring first a blackout and snowstorm to their town, followed by terror coming to their doorstep. A fight for survival ensues, with no one safe from punishment. Once Krampus comes to town, the Christmas season becomes about very different things…namely pain, suffering, and death. The plot is fairly thin, with things mostly being an excuse for another attempt at scaring.

74adfcc1_edit_img_facebook_post_image_file_2387502_1441814334HoP62G.fbshareFor a while, the cast more or less plays it straight, though when things get especially ridiculous, they start to almost comment on that. It’s not a bad idea, but it just isn’t handled well enough to work. Toni Collette and Adam Scott are incredibly under utilized, though the latter kind of handles the changes in tone best. Collette seems bored and Scott appears to wish he had more to do. They’re not bad, by any stretch, but they’re just not probably used here. Emjay Anthony is bland as what we initially see as our protagonist, though he fades into the background quickly once the carnage starts. David Koechner does his normal schtick, which your mileage may vary on, while Allison Tolman is completely wasted in a nothing role, despite ample screen time. In addition to the aforementioned Stefania LaVie Owen and Krista Stadler, the cast also includes Conchata Ferrell as a loudmouth relative who’s out of a whole different film, along with Maverick Flack, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, and more. The acting isn’t the highlight here, plain and simple.

Co-writer/director Michael Dougherty is a distinctive voice in the horror genre, but that doesn’t really shine through in Krampus. The script, which he co-wrote with Todd Casey and Zach Shields, is all over the place. Honestly though, so is the direction by Dougherty, which has intense moments that suggest a better film. Sometimes it wants to be a full on fright flick, sometimes it wants to be a goofy holiday comedy, and sometimes it just goes off on its own path. Unfortunately, it’s never particularly original and the fun is in short supply. There are moments where it works, but they wind up being few and far between. To some degree, not being able to go all out with an R rating is probably to blame in one way or another. Again, it’s just a missed opportunity to make something that would catch on as a Christmas must watch.

In the end, Krampus underwhelms on almost all levels. It’s not terrible and you won’t suffer through it if you wind up watching it, but you won’t be wrong if you wind up expecting more from it than you receive. The film meanders along, feeling almost compromised by the need to please everyone, through the various genres and such. You probably could do worse when it comes to choosing holiday movie outings, but you most definitely can do better as well. Krampus wants to be a classic in the making, but it just winds up being a disappointment here in the present.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!