The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Krampus (PG-13)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout or maniacal Christmas demons will eat your family as in Krampus, one of the better entries in the recent “dark Christmas” genre.

After a truly excellent slo-mo montage of Black Friday insanity, the movie starts with slo-mo footage of Max (Emjay Anthony), dressed in Christmas pageant regalia — I think as Joseph — walloping another kid for, as we find out later, talking some smack about Santa. Max, despite being older-elementary/middle-school-aged, is still clinging to the idea of the True Meaning of Christmas and to his memories of his family happily coming together. Now, mom Sarah (Toni Collette) and dad Tom (Adam Scott) view Christmas more as a thing they have to get through, especially when it comes to the holiday houseguests that are Sarah’s sister Linda (Allison Tolman) and her family. Linda’s husband Howard (David Koechner) has a lot of thoughts — about guns, the general wussiness of Sarah’s family, etc. — that he seems incapable of not sharing. Linda’s four kids — Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack), twins Stevie (Lolo Owen) and Jordan (Queenie Samuel) and the baby — bully Max, annoy his big sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and are viewed as wild creatures by Sarah. This year, the suffering is amped up by the addition of Sarah and Linda’s abrasive Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). Only Omi (Krista Stadler), Tom’s mostly German-speaking mother who lives with him and his family, remains calm. She is the only family member urging Max not to lose his Christmas spirit.
But after a dinner filled with the twins making fun of Max and the adults bickering with each other, Max can’t take it. He tells his family where to go, stomps upstairs to his room and, heartbroken, rips up his letter to Santa — which was actually full of good wishes for his family. This last act and Max’s hopelessness have the power of summoning not some helpful plump guy but a dark force. First, there is a massive snowstorm, one that shuts off the electricity and makes roads impassable. Though the family thinks it’s just another crummy part of the crummy holidays, Max senses something sinister from the outset, especially when he spots a creepy snowman nobody remembers making on the front lawn. Then, Beth tries to walk to her boyfriend’s house but doesn’t come home, even as skies darken. Tom and Howard go searching for her and by the time the family hears their gunshots everybody is pretty sure that there’s something worse than snow coming from above.
We actually get a look at the horned, hooded, hooved Krampus pretty early on and he’s a good mix of grotesque and campy, a description that could be applied to most of the weird, evil things that attack the family. The movie even has a well-constructed animated interlude, as Omi explains the Krampus legend. And Krampus has a nice sense of humor without being winky. Initially, the movie’s focus is really on the family and how the holidays force us into these strange versions of ourselves. Sarah makes these elaborate meals and decorations, perhaps in part to passive-aggressively show up Linda’s family. At one point, Linda snarks that Sarah has made a bunch of weird food and Sarah spits back that she thought Linda might like a break from macaroni and hot dogs. Tom and Sarah actually aren’t as exhaustingly yuppie as they might seem, nor are Howard and Linda as yokel as their first impressions might suggest. But, the movie seems to suggest, that’s what the holidays do to us, shove us into our one-dimensional roles and then pit us against each other. 
That is until Santa’s evil half and his creepy broken-toy minions show up. Then, families put aside the nonsense and work together, rediscovering not just the true meaning of Christmas but what truly matters in life. And, as the demonic gingerbread men try to murder them, they really come to appreciate each other. Awww.
Krampus is in no way a movie for the kids but it definitely taps into the late-childhood/early-teendom disappointment on discovering that the holidays might not be as magical as they appeared when you were younger. It also mixes the “ugh, family” jokes with monster creep-outs (this also isn’t a slasher movie) and unexpectedly genuine-seeming emotion. Perhaps because all four people playing the adults are solid comic actors, they’re able to occasionally go to squishy feel-good places without tipping too much into cheese. 
Krampus isn’t a gory horror movie that just happens to take place on Christmas, like 2006’s Black Christmas. It really does incorporate what War on War on Christmas types might consider “Christmas values” into its story and, with its yearning little boy at the center, even has moments where it reminded me of the Christmas movies of old — your Home Alone, your Charlie Brown Christmas special even. Just, you know, with murderous toys and completely inappropriate for children. B-
Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence/terror, language and some drug material. Directed by Michael Dougherty and written by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey and Zach Shields,Krampus is an hour and 38 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures. 

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