KRAMPUS ***** USA 2015 Dir: Michael Dougherty. 98 mins
After making the best Halloween movie of the 21st century with TRICK ‘R TREAT, Michael Dougherty enjoyed a bigger commercial success with this atmospheric, marvellously sour demolition of the festive season. It starts out with an echo of JINGLE ALL THE WAY, sarcastically capturing the consumerist madness, misery and aggression during the “season of giving”, all set to the old-standard “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”.
Subsequently, we endure a horrible family gathering, with middle-class couple Adam Scott and Toni Collette reluctantly welcoming an array of trashier relatives and in-laws. While everyone else displays foul table manners, engage in petty squabbles, exchange shit presents and mock the festive décor (“It looks like Martha Stewart threw up in here!”), the least cynical of them all, a kid named Max (Emjay Anthony) is perceptive enough to realise that the foulness of his family, and his own corresponding disillusionment with the magic of Christmas, has unleashed a human-punishing demon and his army of malevolent minions.
The sardonic, convincingly sour family gathering nods to NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, while Dougherty crafts a beautifully portentous snow-storm backdrop and accumulates a series of genuinely eerie details – note the sinister snowman that spontaneously appears in the family garden. Once the swanky neighbourhood is totalled by Krampus and co, the movie shifts into playful 80’s horror territory, with Joe Dante a major influence in the meld of straight horror, snappy dialogue and violent slapstick : a kitchen assault courtesy of a giggling, nail gun-wielding gingerbread man is a splendid homage to GREMLINS. Krista Stadler, as a wise old grandmother, oversees a wonderfully realised animated sequence explaining the Krampus mythos and Dougherty pulls off a terrific fake “happy ending” as a wish for a “normal” Christmas results in hideous gifts and widespread insincerity…prior to a truly disquieting final pullback shot. An unusually great modern Hollywood monster movie.
Review by Steven West