Movie: Krampus

Director: Michael Dougherty (‘Trick ‘r Treat’)

Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Allison Tolman and Conchata Ferrell

Spending lengthy periods of time with your extended family, who you have nothing remotely in common with, may initially seem to be a dark and subversive alternative to your traditional holiday festivities. But completely losing faith in the spirit of the Christmas season, which is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, and not fully embracing and appreciating your family, can lead to an even more sinister punishment. Based on the ancient European folklore about a horned beast who captures disobedient children for Christmas, the new horror comedy, ‘Krampus,’ warns of the title demon unleashing darkness and mayhem on the mischievous people he captures. The movie, which opens in theaters tomorrow, was directed and produced by Michael Dougherty, who also co-wrote the script with Todd Casey and Zach Shields. The filmmakers expertly infused a modern take on a noteworthy lore that inspires people not to take advantage of the people they care about the most.

‘Krampus’ follows sensitive and caring pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony), who’s just beginning to realize that Christmas isn’t always as festive as he has always imagined, especially now that he no longer believes in Santa. After being scolded for ruining his school’s holiday play by his parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), who have grown emotionally distant from each other over the past several years, Max becomes upset they no longer value their family’s traditions and connections. He even becomes dismayed that he’s no longer close with his older sister, Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), but relishes that he’s still close with his father’s mother, Omi (Krista Stadler).

Max becomes even more upset with his dysfunctional extended family, including his mother’s sister, Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband, Howard (David Koechner), their four children and his Great Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) arrive for their annual Christmas dinner and continue to bicker. As a result, the disillusioned adolescent turns his back on Christmas, and writes a letter to Santa, in which he wishes his relationships could change. Little does he know, Max’s lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus, a demonic force of ancient evil that’s intent on punishing non-believers. So the pre-teen and his broken family must learn how to love each other again, and fight together if they want to survive.

Dougherty, who rose to fame as the writer-director-executive producer of the acclaimed 2007 horror thriller, ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ once again proved his natural instinct of how to cast a stellar ensemble group of actors who could intriguingly and relatably bring his story to the screen. Anthony enthrallingly portrayed Max as a brave protagonist who would determinedly do whatever it takes to protect the people he cares about, even though they don’t always agree on life’s most important issues. While the young actor naturally emphasized Max’s sense of morals and strength in being able to admit that he’s the one who lured the title demon to their house, the adult performers grippingly presented their characters as not being able to embrace their emotions and flaws as easily.

Scott and Collette rivetingly portrayed Tom and Sarah as the typical successful couple who cares more about their appearances and jobs than the growing drifts in their family relationships in the beginning of ‘Krampus.’ Part of the reason why Max has grown to be so disgruntled about spending time with his family for Christmas is due to his parents’ apparent lack of concern over the growing drift in their bonds, and main concern in how they’re personally struggling to survive, which Scott and Collette effortlessly pull off.

The initially widening gap between the extended family members later intriguingly reverses itself when Krampus unleashes his elves and helpers on the group. But the family’s bonding smartly doesn’t become too sentimental, with the help of the memorable humor from some of the adult actors, particularly Koechner and Ferrell. The two actors, who are largely known for their comedic work, naturally and effortlessly brought the amusing and sarcastic humor Dougherty, Casey and Shields penned for Howard and Aunt Dorothy to the screen. Their humorous disdain for the physical and emotional havoc that Krampus unleashes on their family creatively lightens the otherwise intense and ominous mood that has steadily taken hold of the house.

Weta Workshop, the company that manufactured and puppeteered the creatures, as well as designed the specialty costumes, for the horror comedy, expertly and cleverly crafted the title demon and his helpers that mercilessly targeted Max and his family after he lost faith in Christmas. Krampus, in particular, is captivatingly presented as a horrifying demon with menacing hooves and horns that harrowingly hovers over Max and his relatives with his terrifying chains. Dougherty smartly only revealed quick glimpse of the antagonistic folklore figure, as a way to leave Max and his family questioning if what they’re seeing is real. But the eventual enthralling closeup shots of the entity by the horror comedy’s Director of Photography, Jules O’Loughlin, mesmerizingly emphasized the intriguing designs created by Weta Workshop.

While ‘Krampus’ doesn’t feature the most terrifying visual and emotional scares in the horror genre, Dougherty cast an impressive ensemble group of actors that alluringly proved that while families don’t always get along, they’ll always be ready to protect each other during a time of crisis. Anthony effortlessly portrayed Max as maturely starting to embrace his connections with his relatives, while Koechner and Ferrell provided the intense story with much needed comic relief through their witty sarcasm. Combined with the alluring creatures and costumes designed by Weta Workshop, the film is an enticing entry in the horror comedy subgenre.

Technical: B+

Acting: B

Story: B-

Overall: B

Written by: Karen Benardello

Krampus Movie Review
Emjay Anthony plays Max in the horror comedy, ‘Krampus.’
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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