Krampus (2015)

Directed by Michael Dougherty

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Krampus is a family friendly horror movie, if that kind of thing is possible.  The villain is straight from Dwight Schrute’s Christmas lore, and the cast is full of children and actors known typically for comedy.  The first act is bright and cheery, and much of the latter half of the movie concerns small, animated monsters that don’t give you much of a fright at all.

That being said the initial horror is chilling and effective.  One half of the story is campy if unspectacular horror while the other half is mind-numbingly dull, with a focus on the CGI spectacle of Toy Soldiers-like creatures that is loud, aggressive and desensitizes you to a series of incidents which should be frightening.

When you break it down this movie has three parts.  The first is a family comedy, like something out of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, complete with the competing sides of an extended family and the accompanying class divide.  The second part is like most horror movies, eerie though a bit predictable while smothered in dark blues and imbued with a feeling of dread.  Then the last part of the movie, the longest, is like an extended series of Home Alone gags as the ever-shrinking family fights off a series of unlikely antagonists, from a toy jack in the box to a bunch of Christmas cookies that know their way around a nail gun.

Within any one of these sections the movie was fine, but altogether it felt scattered.  The family-friendly set up runs a little long and introduces us to too many characters whose importance is conveyed quickly and who then overstay their welcome.  We understand the family dynamics within minutes, and yet we’re forced to sit at the dinner table to feel as claustrophobic as they do.

I didn’t mind the extended first act if only because I anticipated this was the steady rise before the sudden, dark and twisted fall that would carry us through the rest of the movie.  But Krampus doesn’t pull the rug out from under us as it should.

This was billed as a horror movie, and with that comes a set of expectations.  I went in thinking anything could happen to anyone, but then we meet six children including a toddler, and I imagined it would be quite f*cked up were anything to happen to the children.  Still, this being a horror movie I was excited to see what happens.

Now I guess I shouldn’t spoil anything, and certain characters and kids get the metaphorical axe, but most of the damage happens offscreen.  The movie feels like an extended tease, but then when the action does start rolling, it’s too much.  Instead of the pace and space style of play as in the modern NBA, Krampus is 80’s style basketball with a crowded lane and guys who can’t drain their 3’s.

Not enough happens until too much happens, and the effect is the same.  It’s boring and quiet, then it’s boring and loud.  The initial threat, Krampus himself, starts as a looming, frightening character of whom we only catch glimpses (a reliable technique for showing the otherworldly monster in a movie such as this), but then the more we see of him the less scary he becomes.  At the same time Krampus disappears for a large swath of time, and the evil is carried out by his toy minions.  First of all, I wasn’t sure how many of these characters there were, so the constant introduction of yet another possessed demon toy or cookie quickly felt tired, like a video game with regenerating bad guys.

The story made it difficult to understand the stakes or even the nature of the threat.  I think it would’ve been much better to make Krampus the only monster or to establish how many monsters there are so we know what we’re working with.  A lot of effective horror comes from a feeling of dread, and for an audience to experience dread they need to know what’s in store.  That means we know the killer is just outside the motel door or the sleeping giant is soon to wake.  The audience has more information than the characters, but in Krampus each new evil character was a frustrating surprise.  Instead of anticipating any of the action we are struggling to keep up, and because it all happens so quickly the noise soon loses its effect, and I found myself tuning out until it all died down for a bit.

Taking a step back, I know if a horror movie works for me if I’m terrified.  Even crappy horror movies can be terrifying with a few jump scares and dark hallways.  It doesn’t take a whole lot to do this, and the best horror movies go a step further by making the scares less predictable and the characters more likable.

In Krampus there are a couple of eerie moments, including one involving a chimney and a dying fire, but the second half of the movie has no thrills to offer, and the movie just drags itself to the finish line.

Up Next: Split (2016), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

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