Yule Be Sorry: The Morbid Magic of Krampus

Krampus (2015)

Directed By: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Toni Collette, Adam Scott, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner

Making a perfect bookend to Michael Dougherty’s black-and-orange love letter to Halloween, Trick r’Treat, Krampus is, in my humble opinion a modern classic. The plot is fairly simple: A typical upper middle-class family is hosting extended family for Christmas. As you might expect, the family is mentally taxing to say the least. However, all hell literally breaks loose when the formally optimistic son Max (Emjay Anthony) becomes disillusioned with the holiday spirit. Now the titular Krampus and his minions descend on the family, forcing them to band together.

From the outset, I think it’s worth getting something perfectly clear. I think we tend to take it for granted, but juggling genres is something that is damn difficult to pull off successfully. Dougherty sets himself up for failure by blending horror, comedy and cinnamon scented sentimental holiday fare. It’s a testament to his skill as a filmmaker that this somehow all manages to work in total harmony. The outrageous over-the-top cold open featuring a Black-Friday sale brawl both sets the stage for its pitch-black comedic tone but also the central theme of the piece. What ensues is a lean film that’s efficient in its set-ups, pay-offs and never feels like it’s over written. I also don’t think enough gets said about how this movie so effortlessly blends sentimental traditional seasonal tropes but never skimps on some legit creepy and tense set pieces. Indeed, the various Christmas iconography morphing into Tim Burton-eques nightmare fuel when stuff goes south not only fits the narrative but is darkly humorous. You cannot deny just how razor-sharp the writing and direction are.



The cast is also brilliant with Toni Collette (who is a national treasure) pitch perfect as the stressed out but ultimately warm-hearted person. Adam Scott is also always a win, and he and Collette just make sense as a couple. Allison Tolman and David Koechner similarly are both great actors but also, like Scott and Collette are believable as a couple. Conchata Ferrell, who sadly passed away last year, is effortlessly funny and her presence is palpable. Emjay Anthony and Stefania LaVie Owen are the two stand out child actors and give incredibly mature and nuanced performances that match that of their adult counterparts.

Krampus is not a movie without flaws, but unlike a balanced review, I’m here to tell you why this movie rules. Dougherty clearly loves Christmas specials, and the movie walks a paper-thin line of creature-feature, yet underneath its morbidity lays a real beating heart at its center. Krampus finds that right amount of dark comedy, horror and message. It’s not too cynical nor is it too sappy. Joe Dante’s Gremlins from 1984 is the only other film that feels cut from the same celluloid.

The movie is widely available, and if you’ve never seen it, give it a watch.

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