After giving people an enduring holiday classic with the Halloween-tastic Trick ‘r’ Treat, director Michael Dougherty decided to try and do the same again, except this time he had Christmas in his sights. And he doesn’t make too bad a job of it, working from a more linear script that he co-wrote this time with Todd Caset and Zach Shields.
Starting off with footage of people acting their worst as they try to get their Christmas shopping done, viewers are soon introduced to the family at the centre of this Christmas story. The kids (Emjay Anthony and Stefania LaVie Owen), the parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette), and the wise grandmother (Krista Stadler). It’s clear that most of them are a bit stressed by the time of year, and that stress is not eased by the arrival of relatives visiting for the holidays (a clan headed up by Allison Tolman and David Koechner). It’s soon made a lot worse when they start to realise that this year will see something a lot less magnaminous than Santa Claus trying to come down their chimney.
Most people nowadays know about Krampus but don’t be worried if you don’t. This film gets you up to speed quickly enough. In fact, the titular creature is really an absent leader, for most of the runtime, while chaos is created by a selection of warped festive favourites. You get deadly gingerbread men, a hungry jack-in-the-box, a vampiric cherub, and more. All brought to life with a mix of impressive effects.
Although not an anthology, Dougherty still manages to break up the main narrative into what feels like more manageable, bite-sized, chunks. The film certainly feels divided into chapters, and there’s a beautiful animated sequence that details a past encounter with Krampus, but that’s not the worst cinematic crime. I’m not following that up with any scathing criticism. This film doesn’t commit ANY major cinematic crimes. There’s something that stops it from becoming a great film, but it consistently delivers one good moment after the next (with some of the more subtle scenes being some of the best).
The cast help to sell the thrills, especially as things walk a much wobblier tightrope in the third act. I like Scott and Collette in anything (as do many others, I’m sure), so they’re easy to root for when the eggnog starts to hit the fan, and Tolman and Koechner are amusingly impolite, and amusingly bad at parenting. Conchata Ferrell is added value as Aunt Dorothy, and Stadler is very good as the loving gran who knows all about the bad side of Christmas. There may be a bunch of kids caught up in the festive frights but it’s Emjay Anthony who gets the most pivotal role (especially as his character, Max, causes the whole chain of events when he effectively rids himself of the spirit of Christmas). Anthony is great in the role, whether he’s just being nervous and curious at the strange turn of events or jumping to correct conclusions faster than most of the other characters because of the lessons learned from his gran, and his youthful open mind.
Not quite in line with some of the movies it tries to come closest to in spirit, Krampus is still a worthy addition to the ever-growing selection of Christmas horrors. It’s another winner from Dougherty, who should seriously consider crafting a filmography made up of nothing more than various holiday-themed horrors. It seems to be what he does best.
DIRECTOR: MICHAEL DOUGHERTY
WRITER: MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, TODD CASEY, ZACH SHIELDS
STARS: EMJAY ANTHONY, ADAM SCOTT, TONI COLLETTE, ALLISON TOLMAN, DAVID KOECHNER
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX