If I don’t see a new release within a week of it hitting the theater, it usually finds its way into my “I’ll get to it…eventually” pile, only to really be seen when it hits DVD or VOD. With this in mind, I decided Sunday was the day to see Krampus, come hell or high water. And while high water didn’t come, rain sure did — while I was biking to the theater, no less. Damp but not deterred, I got in a line that wrapped around the block (“Must be for The Good Dinosaur.” I thought to myself, naively.) My friends were already inside saving me a seat, so I wasn’t worried about that. But as I approached the ticket window I was greeted with a sign no moviegoer wants to see: “SOLD OUT”, slapped above the 2:30pm showtime of Krampus. Goddamn. So there I was, wet and out a movie, with two hours to kill until the next showtime. Thankfully, the theater was directly across the street from one of those massive liquor outlets so I headed over and killed time by perusing their endless aisles of stock. I eventually left with several of those little booze bottles you get on airplanes (“snooters”, as I’ve so lovingly nicknamed them.) Specifically, they were Peppermint Schnapps — to help get me in the holiday mood. And let me say: Krampus was a blast on a belly full of mint liqueur!
While the movie revolves around an entire family, the main protagonist is young Max (Emjay Anthony), a kid who is at the age where he knows Santa isn’t real…but he still kinda believes in him. Keeping the faith (and mostly just wanting to keep the tradition alive) Max pens a letter to Santa — not asking for toys, but asking for the type of Christmas he remembers growing up; one where the family gets along.
Soon after penning the letter, Max’s relatives and in-laws show up and we see why Max wants a normal Christmas so badly: country-fried gun nut Howard (Dave Koechner) belittles Max’s dad, Tom (Adam Scott); drunken Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) complains about the food prepared by Max’s mom, Sarah (Toni Collette). And then there are Howard and Linda’s (Allison Tolman) kids: two of them are fine, but the other two — sporty sisters — find Max’s letter and read it aloud at the dinner table. Max, embarrassed and angry and hurt, snatches the letter and runs off to his room where he tears it up and tosses it out the window. What he doesn’t realize is this act summons Krampus, an evil Christmas spirit who punishes those who lose their love of the holiday. Soon, the power is out and there’s clomping up on the rooftop, and well…the family is in for a long night.
There’s a lot to love about Krampus. Right off the bat, the movie opens with a hilarious montage that takes a stab at the modern state of consumerism. It’s a simple yet clever opening, and it immediately reassured me that I was going to be in good hands for the next 90 minutes. And while the characters may seem stock (redneck cousins, alcoholic aunt), they’re all played in ways that make them feel fresh. Everyone’s individual performances are spot-on, especially Dave Koechner and his rightwing clan (especially his sporty daughters, perhaps the most brilliant casting of 2015.)
In addition to the great performances the movie is visually stunning. From the massive snowstorm outside to the collection of evil toys that spring to life to the character design of Krampus himself (itself?), everything looks spectacular and is exciting to watch. Krampus does a stellar job of blending CGI and live action stuff almost flawlessly. They did a great job of making sure Krampus looked real in all the close-ups, and used the CGI to their advantage when creating lifelike environments. Your senses won’t be assaulted like with most modern CGI trash — here it’s artfully handled and executed with the perfect amount of restraint.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sound design in Krampus. I read a positive review of the sound design somewhere online, and about halfway into the movie I realized exactly why. Krampus is a big, hoofed, noisy beast, covered in chains and bells. Whether he’s thudding around on the roof or trying to make his way down the chimney, the dude makes a lot of noise. The sound designers for Krampus totally killed it; they were able to make the titular character’s presence sound scary.
There are a glut of really bad Christmas horror movies out there, but thankfully Krampus isn’t one of them. Give it some time and it could become a classic. Check it out!