Saturday, December 19, 2015

Krampus

3.5/4

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

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence/Terror, Language and Some Drug Material

"Krampus" is a much better film than you'd think.  The mainstream debut behind the camera of Michael Dougherty, who made the cult hit "Trick 'r Treat," "Krampus" does what one might think to be impossible: create a Christmas horror-comedy that's both scary and funny.

The film begins much like a darker version of "Christmas Vacation."  Actually, it begins with a dead-on satire of Black Friday shenanigans covered by a Christmas tune that might well have been sung by Bing Crosby.  Then it focuses on the Engel family.  Youngest son Max just got into a fight at the pageant with another kid about the existence of Santa (this included a drop-kick on Max's part, but he claims that he was under the influence of candy).  Then, much to the aggravation of everyone, the relatives show up.  Sarah's (Collette) sister Linda (Tolman) married the trailer trash country bumpkin Howard (Koechner), and in addition to their brood of four kids, they brought along the obligatory hard-drinking, politically incorrect Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell).  Fed up with everyone, Max tears up his letter to Santa and wishes for everyone to go away.  The next morning, everyone wakes up in a severe blizzard and strange things going on.

Dougherty has an eye for atmosphere.  The gloom and terror choked me as soon as I saw the snow.  Believe me when I say that my teeth started chattering in the theater.  It's a perfect setting for a horror movie, and Dougherty knows how to push our buttons.  He limits the amount of time we see the evil creatures, relying primarily on the audience's imagination (which will be in overdrive).  Even better, what we see of them is twisted and grotesque.  Not quite to the level of the Xenomorph or Bughuul, but creepy enough to get the job done.

That's not to say that "Krampus" is all scares and no fun.  Dougherty inserts plenty of one-liners into the film, and while the film leans more towards horror, they're funny enough to compliment the tension...and allow us to stop gripping the armrests.

The cast, primarily of character actors and unknowns, shines.  Adam Scott is effective as the every-dad, although he seems a little young to be married to Toni Collette.  Never mind.  Collette is good as always, proving that, unlike some actresses, she's more than happy to lend her considerable talents to projects without prestige or huge paychecks ("The Way Way Back" is another example).  David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell provide the majority of the humor.  Ferrell, whose abilities as a scene-stealer are so great she should just use that as a job descriptor, has the best lines and biggest laughs.  And Emjay Anthony, who played the social media savvy son in last year's underrated "Chef," continues to grow as an actor.  Max misses "what Christmas used to be:" good cheer and a gathering of a loving family instead of bickering and passive aggression.

I thought of "Santa's Slay" while watching this movie.  That film had its pleasures, but "Krampus" takes it to the next level.  It's a lot funnier, and actually scary.  Be warned, however.  The film is intense and violent enough that I was surprised that it skated by with a PG-13 rating.  There are instances where profanity and gore were avoided in an attempt to get avoid an R (despite the fact that it would have made the film seem more honest), but this is as hard of a PG-13 as can be found.

For those of you who are looking for something a little different this Christmas, "Krampus" will satisfy.

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