Feed the Gods (2014)

Brothers Kris and Will – plus Kris’ fiancée – travel to a remote town looking for their birth parents only to discover a more literal kind of tourist trap. Feed The Gods has its moments of humor, mostly from older brother Will’s complete lack of tact or sensitivity, and his boyish enthusiasm over literally everything. His ongoing narration of the events, delivered in a great – and perhaps mildly offensive – Russian accent, elevate a lot of the quieter moments. The backstory and subsequent character development are slow in coming, but well worth the wait. There’s a great scene towards the end where the brothers are trying to escape the monsters and Kris is tearfully apologizing for all the bad things he’s ever done to Will – such as accidentally kicking him in the head during baseball camp when they were twelve. Later, Will asks the befuddled villain – an underutilized Aleks Paunovic – if there’s going to be a “bad guy speech”.

There is, eventually. It’s gloriously cheesy.

Unfortunately these are small moments of black humor in a largely humorless film. Feed the Gods works best when it sticks to the humor. Even the nasty, black humor scenes have more depth and feeling than the dramatic ones. Count the number of times that Will accidentally maims someone, or obliviously walks in on his brother and fiancé just as they’re about to get it on. Feed the Gods might have been an interesting film if it had let its string of black humor play out to its nasty and inevitable extreme. As it stands, the movie has some good moments, but remains unremarkable on the whole.

Technically speaking, Feed the Gods had a lot of issues. The first act was shot without regard to depth perception and no one got around to fixing the lighting issues that plague entire film. None of the nighttime scenes are legible, leaving the audience to spend long stretches of time listening to the characters speak while staring at a curiously black screen. This also removes the emotional impact of a scene where Will’s propensity for accidental maimings has real, tragic consequences. Filming at night takes a special skill set, one that was unfortunately not present here. A problem that obvious should have been seen and corrected during production, but sadly that was not the case.

On the whole, Feed the Gods is unremarkable. It has its moments, but not enough to warrant a second viewing.

Krampus (2015)

Man, this one is a mixed bag. On one hand, we have some of the best practical effects and monster design that I’ve seen all year. The creepy crawlies and monsters looking absolutely beautiful, the camera work is awesome, and the soundtrack fits much better than I expected it to. On the other, we have a script that abandons its character arcs less than halfway through and can’t decide on what kind of horror film it really wants to be. Is Krampus supposed to be for kids, a la The Goonies? Is it a grown up fairytale for adults like Pan’s Labyrinth? A straight up slasher like the Black Christmas films?

Good question. Krampus gives them all a shot, but can’t stick to a cohesive theme or even visual style. The main problem is that Krampus takes too long to embrace its own inherit weirdness. This is a film that has a family under siege by homicidal gingerbread men, but the first third treats everything like a traditional slasher. In all honesty, I wish that Krampus had filmed everything in stop motion instead of limiting it to a single flashback sequence. The stop-motion part was my favorite by far, and I feel that it encompassed all the creepy weirdness that the film was dealing with in a cohesive and understandable way.

As for the characters, there’s not much to say. Some of the dialog was funny and there were some truly epic one-liners delivered by the one character I didn’t expect, but the script just didn’t give the actors much to work with. Aside from the main character, Max, no one of cast got a chance to complete their character arcs. There was a lot of subtext introduced in the beginning, including some pretty stark class and political differences, but none of it went anywhere. It’s clear that these people have problems and the actors are skilled enough to make the audience at least somewhat invested in seeing a resolution to their varied (and sharply realistic) conflicts, even though Krampus never actually produces one.

This is director Michael Dougherty’s second film, the first one being Trick ‘r Treat (2009), a classic in its own right. And I feel that the main takeaway from that film applies here: it’s a mixed bag. Some of it misses the mark, but when it works, it really fucking works.

A small warning to those prone to seizures: there are several scenes with strobe effects towards the end that should be watched for.

All and all, I’d give this one a 6/10. It’s worth seeing for the visuals, but don’t expect a perfect film.