Krampus is a thing now. For those who do not know, Krampus is a mythical being from Bavarian folkore who worked along with Saint Nicholas to separate the good children from the bad. Saint Nick gives the good ones presents; Krampus steals the bad ones away.
Over the past few years, there has been in uptick in Krampus stories in America, as the kinds of people who are not as clever as they think they are search for the next thing to bore their family with at Christmas dinner. That increase in popularity has now reached its nadir, with “Krampus,” the new film starring the always delightful Toni Collette, and the always unremarkable Adam Scott.
Set in quiet suburbia, Scott and Collette play Tom and Sarah, a married couple and parents of two children, Beth and Max. Young Max still clings to his Santa belief and general love of all things Christmas. Tom and Sarah are suitably cynical of the world around them, and Beth is what Hollywood imagines a teenage girl to be. The family also has Omi — who is Tom’s German-born mother — living with them. We know she’s German because she insists on speaking it almost exclusively throughout the film, even though nobody else does, and she can, in fact, speak English.
At the start of the film, after a genuinely funny and well-shot intro sequence of shoppers destroying a big-box store in search of deals, Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman) and her husband Howard (David Koechner) show up for the Christmas weekend with their four terrible children in tow along with Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Farrell).
As Max is the lone person in the extended family who can see the true meaning of Christmas, he gets increasingly frustrated at the other family members’ continual dismissal of one another and the ridicule he gets from his cousins. He retreats to his room, rips up the letter he was writing to Santa, and throws the pieces out the window. Much like how Michael Beck tossing the ripped pages of his artwork out the window in “Xanadu” summons Olivia Newton John, Max’s torn letter somehow calls forth Krampus, and we are off and running.
There is not much of a plot to Krampus. The reasons why Krampus is here and what he wants to accomplish are left sketchy at best, because people have not come to this movie looking for Shakespeare. The film is set up and presented like a classic b-horror flick. All it has to do is deliver on some mild scares and kitchy gore, and you have a winner.
But Krampus struggles with all of it. There is some humor involved (Collette, Scott, Farrell and Koechner all have strong comedic backgrounds), but the jokes are easy and predictable. The film makes a game attempt at being scary when Krampus first arrives but largely gives up halfway through the film. And for a film that features giant, demon jack-in-the-boxes eating children, the whole story is almost completely bloodless.
Finally, at the end, there is not even much of a payoff. Walking out of the theater, the only moral I could possibly find was along the lines of “family sucks, but it is better than hell, so Merry Christmas.” Ultimately, there is probably some fun to be mined from the Krampus concept, but this film never commits to any of it. There are far funnier Christmas films out there — and scarier or gorier ones as well — if that is what you are looking for. Find one of those and save your $15. CV