A lot more enjoyable than it should be, Krampus overcomes its numerous dodgy elements by being so much fun.
Considering the rut horror has found itself in recently, there’s been a surprising amount of high quality films released this year. Starting off with the inventive It Follows, 2015 seemed to have peaked early in terms of horror. The next few months seemed to affirm this, until The Hallow made its way onto screens, reviving the creature feature for a new generation. Crimson Peak came off the back of this, dividing audiences to a degree, but offering a touch of class nonetheless. And now we have Krampus, which brings a more festive flavor to the genre.
Whilst not up to the same standard as the other aforementioned releases, Krampus does inject something that has been sorely missing in horror for a long time; a sense of playfulness and fun. Director Michael Dougherty imbues the film with the same creative flair and madness that he did in his 2007 hidden gem Trick ‘r’ Treat. Gimmicky though his style may be in places, it’s consistently attention grabbing and entertaining. Whilst Christmas themed horror may not be an original concept, Dougherty makes it his own, putting a distinct spin on it, with visual flourishes and a sweet storyline.
The narrative centers on Max, a young boy who desperately tries to keep the spirit of Christmas alive, even when all of those around him seem to have given up on the concept. For instance, when a school mate insists that Father Christmas is just an advertising ploy exploited by Coca-Cola, Max responds by drop-kicking him and starting a fight in the middle of the school nativity. His reasoning for this is that he doesn’t want Christmas to be ruined. Which is a problem when his dysfunctional family clashes over dinner. Here, long gestating tensions reach breaking points, unwelcome relatives make an appearance, and snide put-downs are fired out a rapid pace.
When his cousins mock him for still believing in Santa, Max finally snaps and denounces the holidays (as well as his family) for good. In doing so, Max provokes the wrath of Krampus: an ancient figure of German folklore, who punishes children that have misbehaved. A kind of anti-Saint Nick if you will. Over the three day lead up to Christmas, Krampus cuts off the entire community via a blizzard and begins terrorising the inhabitants with a variety of demonic toys and helpers.
Tonally, the film straddles the line between something like Evil Dead II and Gremlins. The latter in particular is an obvious inspiration, not only in terms of the seasonal setting, but also in the anarchic behavior of the creatures. When Krampus’ pint-sized minions are causing mischief around the house, cackling to themselves as they do so, the comparisons to Joe Dante’s 1984 classic come all too easily. Which is probably a good thing, because it’s in these more lively and hyper-active moments that Krampus really hits its stride. One sequence in an attic is particularly memorable, being some of the most fun a horror film has provided since The Cabin in the Woods.
Unfortunately, these moments are too few and far between, and the rest of the film feels relatively restrained and ordinary. The characters are likable enough and even if they are all very one dimensional, you can still root for them. It’s a shame then that the script doesn’t do the cast any favours, saddling them with weak lines and stupid decisions.
On top of this, the attempts at witty one liners are largely cringe inducing, especially when they are coming from Conchata Ferrell’s Aunt Dorothy. But if the dialogue feels awkward and forced, the cartoonish comedy offered by the monsters is much more on point, offering some proper laughs.
So all in all Krampus is flawed but fun. The question remains however; is it scary? The short answer is no. The design of the titular villain is creepy enough, and when you do manage to get a good look at him the effects are impressively executed, but there’s no real sense of tension. Jump scares come and go without really landing, and it’s all a surprisingly bloodless affair. This will likely be a problem for many, especially since the film is marketed as a much more straight-forward horror than it actually is.
Despite these numerous issues though, Krampus remains damn good fun. If you’re looking for a properly intense experience, then you may want to divert your attention elsewhere (*cough* The Hallow). But equally if you’re just looking for a solidly fun time at the cinema, then you could do a lot worse than a film in which malevolent gingerbread men unload a nail gun into their helpless victim.
Krampus (2015), directed by Michael Dougherty, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures. Certificate 15.