Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Krampus (2015)

Warning: I’m going to spoil the Christmas spirit early in the year (well, and the ending)!

Sarah (Toni Collette) and Tom (Adam Scott) Engel, and their kids Max (Emjay Anthony) and Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) don’t look forward to the best Christmas in memory. Not only do they expect the Christmas family guests from hell, but there are the usual pressures you get in these rich movie families – he’s working too much, and so on and son forth, you know the drill. Particularly Max has the Christmas blues, which does not improve when one of the kids of the Hated Guests steals and reads aloud his heartfelt letter to Santa Claus (that even contains cheer and goodwill towards them).

So he tears his letter and throws it in the wind, unwittingly summoning Krampus who’ll teach him and his family a lesson about the true Christmas spirit of sacrifice and suffering, hooray. So soon, the small town around the Engels’ home is hit by a freak (and wonderfully, darkly picturesque) snowstorm, all communications to the outside world are cut off, and Krampus and his army of helpers are working through neighbourhood and cast while everyone huddles around the fire in fear of the night like in the olden times. Omi (which is German for granny) Engel (Krista Stadler) understands what’s going on quite early because she herself survived a Krampus attack when she was a kid (as we will be told in an awesome animated sequence), but knowing what’s going on and actually winning a fight against it are different things. On the positive side, a Krampus attack like this is the ideal thing to rebuild a family structure, building bridges between working class and white collar folk, and bringing everyone closer together like in the Christmases of yore. Unfortunately, Krampus doesn’t really care about that sort of thing.

I think Michael Dougherty should just go and make all seasonal horror movies from now on, because going by this and house favourite Trick ‘r Treat, making films which turn pagan traditions surrounding holidays into the stuff of horror movies is his forte. I’d like an Easter werewolf film now, please. While he’s changing a lot about them, Dougherty does have a knack to take one or two of the core ideas of the pagan concepts he’s working from and truly sticking with them quite consequently, like in Trick ‘r Treat where many of the characters suffer horrible fates for somewhat minor rules infractions because they happen to do so on the wrong night. The same goes here, where everything seems set for the characters having learned their valuable lessons and therefore earned to survive through an act of contrition by Max, something that would be perfectly fitting if this were a film about an evil Santa Claus. This being Krampus, though, contrition isn’t worth anything, and punishment is meted out to the completely undeserving.

This leads to the curious (and wonderful) situation of a family-friendly horror comedy with an ending – that also doubles as that rarest of thing known as an effective and tonally consistent kicker ending – that isn’t particularly bloody or violent but that is as dark as they get, with a family that has learned its lesson yet is still doomed for their – again – minor infractions against rules that aren’t even their own. The universe as embodied in Krampus is an asshole. How Lovecraftian is that?

Dougherty packages this subtext in a slick, clever horror movie that works quite well without much blood and gore, full of at once funny and creepy special effects monsters (Krampus’s helpers) used in exceedingly clever and fun ways fighting a bunch of actors in a very good mood. It’s the best of (mostly) bloodless carnage you could ask for. Krampus is one of the exalted kind of horror comedy that takes itself and its audience very seriously, integrating the humour so well it doesn’t take away but enhances the scenes of suspense and horror without anything here feeling like a compromise between the two genres.

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