Family Movie Review: Krampus (PG-13)

Krampus ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 98 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This very dark horror comedy about a demonic being hunting an unhappy family during Christmas includes a lot of violence, including beatings, burnings, shootings, and fights; some nightmarish images, including the titular demon (all claws and tongue) and other creepy supernatural entities, like evil elves; some cursing; some jokes about sex; and some adults drinking and discussing drug use.

‘Krampus’ is the feel-bad movie of the holiday season, a horror-comedy mashup that pits St. Nicholas’s dark shadow against an unhappy suburban family. There’s humor here, but only for a very specific audience.

By Roxana Hadadi

Movies don’t have to be for everyone – in fact, that blockbuster-for-all mentality is what has been squeezing non-superhero films out of Hollywood for years – but the horror comedy “Krampus” is really, really not for everyone. This half-gory, half-humorous film about a demonic presence plaguing a suburban family because they forgot the real point of Christmas makes its points amusingly, but its slaughter of relatives doesn’t leave much room for optimism.

The film begins with what’s wrong about the holidays – a scene in a shopping mall, where everyone fighting over their purchases and vapid self-absorption undermines the fact that maybe this time of year isn’t what it used to be – and then goes macro with a focus on one family.

The relationships between Max’s (Emjay Anthony, of “Insurgent”) family are splintering: Parents Tom (Adam Scott, of “They Came Together”) and Sarah (Toni Collette, of “The Boxtrolls”) can’t really stand each other and are coldly resentful. Max’s older sister Beth (Stefania LaVie, of “The Lovely Bones”) is glued to her phone, texting her boyfriend and ignoring everyone else. But Max still believes in Santa Claus, still holds out hope that he’ll come and provide the presents and holiday cheer to get their family back on track.

But three days before Christmas, the rest of Max’s extended family arrives: bombastic, greedy, narcissistic aunts, uncles, and cousins who mock Max and also seem to have forgotten the true spirit of Christmas. Frustrated and overwhelmed, Max tells his family that he hates them and rips up his Christmas list to Santa Claus – a decision that summons the Krampus.

Max’s German grandmother, Omi (Krista Stadler), fills them in: the Krampus is a demonic presence that is St. Nicholas’s shadow, a horned monster who punishes those who misbehave and forget the true nature of the holiday – to be merry, appreciative, grateful, and giving. Max’s family has been none of those things! And so Krampus appears, with claws, horns, evil minions, and monstrous toys, ready to exact his revenge on Max’s family. If they work together, maybe they’ll live – but that’s only a maybe.

“Krampus” does a good job mixing things up with its tactics: It’s clear that everyone in the family is fair game (why else have so many relatives show up in the story?), but the various methods of mayhem, from a human-eating Jack in the Box toy to evil elves to gingerbread cookies as deadly bait, are all nice riffs on the holiday. (And seem very inspired by the classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” too.) And it’s also satisfying that no one in the movie seems safe – not Omi, who has a history with Krampus, or even Max, whose summoning brought the Krampus to his home. That sense of all-enveloping danger adds a nice tension to things.

But what’s a little surprising about “Krampus” is its bleakness, its rejection not only of Christmas itself but also of the idea of family happiness. Is it impossible to get along with people you’re supposed to love? “Krampus” seems to make that argument, and it sets a very dark tone for this comedy that’s already pretty black. There’s an inarguable cynicism to it that makes it feel inconsequential. If “Krampus” argues for the annihilation of everyone and doesn’t care about its own characters, why should we? There’s a limit to the joy dark humor you can get out of “Krampus,” and that line is it.

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