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.