“Krampus” is a messy and at times frustrating film which attempts to capitalise on the collective cynicism of an audience tired of Christmas and the films which are released to exploit it. As a person who associates the holiday at least in part with consumerism and greed, I can appreciate the novelty of a ghastly creature bringing an army of teddy bears and gingerbread men to wreak havoc on a middle-class American family – there’s definitely a sick satisfaction in it. However, my appreciation of this film’s premise doesn’t mean that I think it is in any way well-executed or worthy of praise, because the narrative it tells simply isn’t that interesting or entertaining.
The titular character, Krampus, is a monstrous creature taken from Anglo-Bavarian folklore. Krampus is said to bring judgement down on those children who have done wrong, i.e. those who are on Saint Nicholas’ naughty list; if Saint Nicholas is a god-like figure then Krampus is a devil, so he offers a form of balance. Nevertheless, what I personally feel makes Krampus a dull character to explore is that it isn’t clear in the folklore why he should care whether or not children hold the spirit of the season in their hearts; nor is it in any way obvious whether or not his actions are designed to act as a deterrent, or are merely an excuse for his own malicious nature. Horror movies generally have to treat ghost stories and things that go bump in the night as though they were real, but I find this incredibly hard to swallow when the motivation behind a certain monster’s actions are so opaque.
“Krampus” opens with a promising slow motion montage in which shoppers wrestle one another for toys; this immediately acts as an ironic nod to the theme of the movie, and also provides the audience with a clear tone. It’s obvious that whilst “Krampus” was advertised as a horror film, it is in fact a comedy which utilises the tropes of the horror genre. It’s clear that the goal of the movie isn’t actually to shock or scare, but rather to provide some sort of superficial social commentary on Christmas and how we currently treat it, whilst also making the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of their own attitudes towards the holiday. This theme is reinforced throughout the film, albeit through increasingly clunky exposition (much of the dodgy dialogue is intentional, but despite the best efforts of the writers that doesn’t make it more palatable).
This theme could’ve been used to enhance “Krampus”, to elevate it into something which was really worth watching, but instead it tainted the film. At the end of the day this isn’t an intelligent piece of cinema; Michael Dougherty might’ve had the best of intentions, but he wasn’t able to convey his message on screen without cramming it down the audience’s collective throat. By trying to reinforce the message that Christmas is about putting up with your family despite their flaws, and giving rather than receiving, Dougherty takes any sense of fun away from proceedings.
The story of Krampus invading a small town in America is at its very core completely ridiculous and verges on nonsensical, so when any kind of commentary is going on it’s incredibly distracting. You can really tell when certain characters are saying something that is in fact aimed at the audience rather than another character, because most of the time the dialogue is clearly comedic in nature and the acting is consistently (by intention) over the top. When the film’s central message is being conveyed this isn’t the case, and there’s a clear shift as characters suddenly become serious. This, of course, ruins any fleeting sense of immersion or credibility.
I don’t want to waste too much time picking holes in “Krampus”, because it’s incredibly flawed in nearly every aspect, so let me just say that its premise, its formulaic story, and the performances of the main cast, were all poor. There’s not a whole lot to like about it unless you’re like me and enjoy a bit of B-movie nonsense, and it’s a very awkward film to watch. With that said, I’d like to pick out at least one positive feature for the sake of fairness, because I wouldn’t want Krampus to come and get me next Christmas for being too harsh on his biopic!
It’s undeniable that the costume and monster design in “Krampus” is actually very good. Krampus himself looks cool when he’s on screen (although that isn’t very often), and his helpers are similarly striking visually. My favourite villain was definitely the jack-in-the-box, which even in such a silly movie was off-putting, and I also liked the design on the elves. They sort of reminded me of the goblins from “Troll 2”, which may not seem like a compliment, but it is in its own way. I feel like if this movie is ever going to be loved it would have to be in the same way that “Troll 2” is idolised and adored, so any similarities are probably welcome! Sadly that’s all I’ve got in the form of praise… so it isn’t looking good for me next winter.
I can’t help but think that something more could’ve been done with “Krampus” if it had been executed with more care, because the cast isn’t bad at all on paper and the costume design/special effects for the monsters was really quite good. With more nuanced dialogue and a greater focus on horror this could’ve been a half decent attempt at making a memorable Christmas movie. However, as it is “Krampus” is a forgettable, lacklustre, and frankly boring film which spends too much time trying to put across a message about the spirit of Christmas, and not enough time developing its characters.