It’s Christmas in October at CineFiles, as we watch last year’s Krampus, a film about the eponymous antithesis of Santa Claus, a half-goat, half-demon who punishes naughty children during the holiday season.
In Krampus, we meet a strained nuclear family: the workaholic father who means well (Adam Scott), the stressed mother who means well (Toni Collette), the distant daughter who means well (Stefania LaVie Owen), and the misbehaving son who means well (Emjay Anthony). The family invites extended family members to the house for the Christmas season, and a bickering, passive aggressive dinner ensues.
This dinner scene is a great introduction to the cast of characters. The characters are simple, one-note enough that all we really need is this scene. However, the scene is better than much of what comes next, as if this film would have been better suited as a black comedy about a broken family than a black comedy horror about a giant goat demon.
As far as the comedy side of the horror comedy, much of the comedic talent in this film is criminally underutilized. The likes of David Koechner and Adam Scott are wasted on characters that aren’t particularly comedic. The horror, on the flip side, is all the more lacking. The few suspenseful moments are rendered moot by reveals of demonic creatures that are downright silly. In short, the comedy is presented in moments that should have horror, and the rest of the film is much of the normal horror movie interlude drama.
I guess the stakes being raised so that children are the main party in danger is meant to be the truly horrifying element, as it is with the legend of Krampus itself. In terms of character motivation and general drama, this endangering of child characters is rather useful. Otherwise, it feels like a replacement for actual scary moments.
The creatures from Krampus’ bag of toys are perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the movie, visually that is. They are genuinely creative inventions that are at least partially practically generated which are more appealing to the eye than Krampus itself is. What the film lacks in narrative structuring, it makes up for with these artistic creations. Of course, executed within a story that hinges on these creatures for effect, and the whole thing feels a bit forced.
Without spoiling anything in particular about the ending, it may be pertinent to mention its strangeness. In a narrative of this nature, the ending could have gone in a number of different ways, and the film itself also tries to go in multiple directions at once, to sloppy effect. It is as if the film doesn’t know whether to pull its punches or go all out, so it kind of just keeps going until it thinks that it has satisfied both ends. What results is an ending that is woefully scatter-brained.
Krampus is a horror comedy that finds itself lacking in substance from either prong of the genre hybrid, so much so that it feels as if the film would have been better as merely one or the other. Squandering its superb cast, there is an emptiness at the heart of the film that keeps it from ever becoming memorable, even when some of its effects work is.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)