The trailers were deceptive, at first anyway. A family gather for Christmas, the youngest son tearing up his letter to Santa Claus in anger after his cousins embarrass him at the dining table and cause a massive argument. Then the power cuts out and a snowstorm covers the house. What’s with the creepy snowmen that have shown up in the garden? Why must the fire be kept hot at all times? Who is Krampus?
That last question I can answer without spoiling things. Krampus is the anti-Santa, a manifestation of everything that Santa Claus stands opposite to. There, nice and simple. As for the creepy snowmen and the other untold horrors that appear? I’ll let you discover them for yourself.
Krampus has a number of things going for it, not least the championing of mostly practical effects over excessive CGI. The CGI that does appear is used sparingly and in deference to the story rather than an attempt at cutting costs or just doing CGI because it’s quote unquote easier to do than a practical effect.
I’m a big fan of this approach to effects as it gives the threat a tangible feel. As impressive as CGI is these days, unless you’re Andy Serkis it’s difficult making your brain believe what you’re seeing on the screen is real and not just a bunch of pixels. When the horrors start to build you actually feel as though this is something that could happen, no matter how far fetched it actually is. Practical effects, my friends. Don’t knock them.
I also liked the German grandmother who rarely speaks English. At first I assumed it was to be a running joke, that she was speaking German and everybody else just understood what she was saying. This assumption was quickly blown out of the water, but her presence is enjoyable all the same. Without her we wouldn’t have any idea who this Krampus guy actually is. We’re not the most enlightened bunch in the English speaking world, I’ll say that much. The Krampus legend is, in reality, an incredibly scary proposition, and something I’d recommend reading up on.
On the other hand, approaching the film with no real clue about the Krampus legend is probably a good thing. It leads to a fair amount of tension and surprises throughout, and I feel that some of this would have been lost had I known more about this creature’s evil ways.
Tonally we’re in Gremlins territory, a mashup of horror and comedy. Krampus doesn’t reach the same heights as that 80s classic, but then not much does. The main stars, Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Davied Koechner, Allison Tolman and Conchata Ferrell, all contribute towards making this family feel real, more so as events develop and they find themselves heading further down the rabbit hole. Antagonism gives way to bonding as the circumstances become more hopeless.
Despite the horror overtones this the underlying but totally genuine message that you can take away from Krampus. Family may annoy you at times, but when you’re being hunted by a Christmas demon, sometimes they’re all you’ve got.