Monday, December 12, 2016

Krampus


   It's really hard to review Christmas movies in my opinion. Most of them are directly engineered to manipulate your emotions to very specific ends. It works, but it also makes them critic-proof. Is The Santa Clause a good movie? It doesn't matter. It's an effective movie. It's one of countless dozens that riff on the same jokes and gags, and this is why nobody watches It's A Wonderful Life off-season, but nobody has any issue popping in Halloween in April. Then, here comes Krampus. The anti-Claus. A movie that took me completely by surprise.

   Most Christmas horror movies are unbelievably mean spirited, and most of them are slasher flicks. Some kid got molested by a mall Santa and grows up to be a serial killer or SOMETHING, I don't fucking know, but they're not nice movies. They're kind of anti-Christmas. Krampus isn't like that. Krampus is a movie that could've so easily been repulsively preachy, but instead it's just observant. The eponymous creature, the Krampus, visits families that have well and truly lost the meaning of Christmas. Of course, the movie adds a few stipulatory caveats to that premise because otherwise Krampus would have more families than he could handle.

   But, like I was saying, observant and not preachy. The movie's opening credits play over a montage of Black Friday-like shopping season carnage. It's absurd and repulsive, and all too real. Society has perverted Christmas into a miserable experience and we suck down egg nog and Santa Clause sequels to dupe ourselves into believing otherwise. However, Krampus suggests that underneath all that, there's a warm and nostalgic ideal that's well worth embracing. Isn't this a horror movie though? Yes, yes it is. Perhaps that's precisely why I found this more effective than any other Christmas movie this month.

   The sappiness is fought for and earned through a horrifying gauntlet of terror. It's really damn personal. You know the saying, you don't appreciate what you've got until it's gone? Krampus is a movie that takes that adage and runs with it. Sick of your family at Christmas? Problem fucking solved, here's a demon Santa to drag them into the goddamn underworld. Literally. When this family puts aside its differences and comes together, it's a life or death situation. Finally, a Christmas movie not about overcoming the local grumpy codger or a deadbeat dad, instead it's a vicious monster and its minions. As far as Christmas spirit goes, it's a damn sight more effective than even Gremlins.

   Gremlins was simply a monster on the loose tale. At best it was a cautionary tale about being reckless with responsibilities, but more than that? Nah. It had no direct commentary about consumerism or the corruption of a beloved holiday. Krampus, for all it's creature feature fare, it's actually pretty festive. It gets why Christmas movies work, and then applies all the excellent trappings of an old school scare flick to it. This feels like something Joe Dante would've done. It plays quite nicely after National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation- especially given that Krampus feels like that movie, playing relatively straight... and with a horror twist.

   I do believe I've somewhat buried the lede here, but my original point was, Krampus is an excellent Christmas movie because it's not critic proof. Instead of being manipulative and pulling on age-old cliches to land it's emotional beats, it earns them in an all-too-literal trial by fire. Who knew that this would be the Christmas movie with believable character arcs? Nevertheless, the monsters are excellent creations of practical effects and CGI, they're creepy, disturbing, and really cool. The Krampus itself is rather fantastic too. The movie has some shortcomings, but nothing worth rambling about. I was engaged and entertained throughout. I felt thankful for my own dysfunctional family afterwards and was glad that we all get along fairly well. This is one house the Krampus won't have to visit.

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