“Krampus proves to be a fairly fun way to fill an evening, but sadly nothing more.”
Originally release across UK screens during December 2015 as part of a mini-wave of Christmas based supernatural horror films, Michael Dougherty (Trick R Treat) directed Krampus now sees its home entertainment release. With spring in the air can Krampus still chill our blood while the air warms?
Krampus is a film of two distinct parts. A promising first third of the movie is a slow-burn ratchet of tension and unease, starting with slow motion images of Christmas shoppers at their most venal and (literally) grasping, moving through the shuddering anxiety of family dinners where nobody likes anybody but they have to be together because, you know, family. The awful, grinding anxiety of those situations is captured quite marvellously here and proves to be a great watch as the closing in of a storm that knocks the power out and that seemingly swallows everyone in the town. It’s here that Krampus is at its best; there’s a real sense of building dread and of things tilting off-kilter, of shapes moving through the storm, of things getting closer, of mystery and impending doom…
It’s a shame though that Dougherty didn’t try to make the entire film in this vein because if he had, it might have been something really special. As it is though, as it enters its third-way point Krampus shifts its tone, changing to something altogether more gruesome, yet far less intense and unsettling. Krampus—the horned beast of European folklore who punishes naughty children at Christmastime—arrives, and it seems it is aided by a number of helpers, distortions of Christmas jollities that lay siege to the family home and pick off the various relatives one by one. These helpers often appear more comedic than scary however, and scenes of terror mix unevenly with the humour as the impressive, if slightly rigid-faced, Krampus wreaks its havoc—the whole thing playing out like a mid-list Charles Band movie from the mid-80s, albeit one with a bigger budget and a certain sense of flair. As the story stutters and shifts from the interesting mysteries of its opening to its gore and humour ‘family under siege’ set-up, Krampus suffers, and with an ending that is muddled yet strangely predictable, the overall impression here is of a film that couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be.
If you can cope with the change of tone and the muddled ending, however, there is certainly some fun to be had here. Toni Collette and Adam Scott are particularly good as the besieged parents, with the rest of the cast acquitting themselves well. Dougherty appears to have gone for in-camera effects in the main (which helps with the 80s B-movie tone the movie has), which is always welcome, and although there’s nothing too original, the scenes out in the storm have a real power and menace. The music and camerawork are also good, and the movie is always easy on the eye. There’s a nice scene with the unseen Krampus dashing along the rooftops for example, and when he does finally appear, Krampus’ scenes are generally tense enough to keep the narrative moving from point to point without too much lag.
It’s just a shame that, as a whole, the film doesn’t ever quite live up to the sum of its disparate parts. As it is though, Krampus proves to be a fairly fun way to fill an evening, but sadly nothing more.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Director: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Toni Collette, Adam Scott
Release date: 2015. Home entertainment 2016 (UK)
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