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‘Krampus’ is Surprisingly Heartfelt, in Spite of Some Monstrous Content

The film puts together warped versions of gingerbread men, classic toys, and elves to serve as minions to the titular beast. And it all looks pretty good.

Krampus kicks off with slow motion scenes of the mayhem inside a toy store just days before Christmas. People are getting violent over merchandise, trampling all over each other for the promise of the holiday’s big toy hit. The film never hides its intentions: it is a film that ends up punishing its characters for losing the Christmas spirit, taking them through horror movie machinations in order to make that point. It’s a pretty clever film that features genuine heart in spite of the monstrous milieu. I’m not entirely sure about where it eventually ends up, but good long chunks of it are really fun.

Max (Emjay Anthony) just wants Christmas to be like it used to be. Unfortunately, his family seems to have lost the Christmas spirit. His aunt and uncle come over with their kids for the holidays, and this only causes more tension in their home. When his cousins make fun of him for writing a letter to Santa, Max loses all hope, tears up the letter, and throws it out the window. This act apparently summons something dark and evil into their neighborhood. A blizzard soon rolls in, bringing with it dark creatures that seek to punish those who have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

The film takes a while to set things up. It invests in the dysfunction of the family first, viewing the awfulness through the eyes of the one character that still wants Christmas to be something good. And these scenes, in spite of the broadness of the comedy, ends up hitting on some really heartfelt things. When Max tears up that letter, it does feel like a genuine minor tragedy. This is a kid who isn’t just something clinging tightly to the idea of Christmas: he is a kid who is watching his family fall apart in front of his eyes. Him tearing the letter becomes something more than giving up on Christmas. It’s him resigning himself to the dysfunction.

The film then travels headlong into the horror material. And this is where the film gets really fun. This is a classic creature feature, the characters going up against various messed-up creations. The film puts together warped versions of gingerbread men, classic toys, and elves to serve as minions to the titular beast. And it all looks pretty good. A good mix of visual and practical effects brings all these creatures to life. The film is able to craft a few really disturbing visuals, even though it feels somewhat held back by its rather tame approach to violence.

The cast is stacked with reliable performers. Playing the parents of Max are Adam Scott and Toni Collette. Even with the little they’re given, they’re able to convey the story of a couple that has grown apart in the last few years. David Koechner and Allison Tolman play off Scott and Collette really well, the tensions between their characters evident in practically every scene. The strong acting contributes a lot to making this film feel more than just a one-off holiday joke. There is genuine emotion in this picture, and the actors do a lot to help that along.


Krampus seems destined for cult status, though it isn’t quite crazy enough for that. It probably should be a little more violent, and just a little more out there in terms of ideas. But it is strange enough to be compelling, and genuinely heartfelt enough to be a little moving at times. This is kind of a hard sell for people just looking for straightforward horror, or just a laugh-out-loud comedy. What makes Krampus so interesting is that it seems to really love Christmas, and wants to be couched in the language of the family Christmas film in spite of its monstrous content. I’m not sure it works entirely, but it’s worth giving the benefit of the doubt.

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Comedy, Horror
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