‘Krampus’ is a film based on a twisted German folklore character meant to frighten children into behaving themselves. It does throw into bold relief and issue with the roots of morality and cynicism is the Christmas season. Children were basically taught that if they were good, St Nicolas would reward them with presents, but if they were Krampus would punish them. There’s another discussion to be had that if child who are only ‘good’ to get rewards or avoid punishment, do they grow into genuinely good adults or do they grow into adults who try to avoid getting caught, rather than being motivated to do the right thing.
The opening scene of ‘Krampus’ clearly establishes it as a black comedy or satire. The classic “It’s Beginning to Look A lot like Christmas” plays over a montage of shoppers fighting over items in various stores. A retail worker gets trampled by shoppers. One couple gets pepper sprayed by security officers. People look completely miserable as they stand in line at cash registers. The main character of the film (Emjay Anthony, one of the better child actors working today) gets into a fight with a classmate while in a Christmas play as people in the audience laugh and snap pictures on their phones. Shortly after the montage, the family arrives home and a story about the so-called “War on Christmas” that comes up every year plays on their television. There is a very clear commentary of the cynicism of the Holiday season. There has certainly been plenty of things to fuel that fire recently. From Black Friday sales causing Thanksgiving to disappear, to violent actions every year by shoppers, to people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to fight so-called political correctness (both ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Seasons Greetings’ existed long before political correctness) more than to simply wish people a Merry Christmas, to more and more people having to work longer hours and note getting to spend Christmas with their loved ones, to scandals about charities people have supported around the holidays for years, the holidays have lost their magic for a lot of people.
There is also the issue of family members spending time with relatives they can’t stand making for a miserable holiday. Max’s family must endure his Aunt Linda’s (Allison Tolman) husband Howard (David Koechner) and their rotten children. They also have to put up with a grand aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). Max’s Mother Sarah (Toni Collette) gets a cheer worthy moment as she finally tells Dorothy off after numerous rude remarks about her house and food. Max and his immediate family that also includes his father Tom (Adam Scott), his sister Beth (Stephanie LaVie Owen) and his grandmother “Omi” (Krista Stadler) have to endure continuous rudeness from their visiting relatives before Max (after repeatedly being told not to react, finally snaps. Which brings up another issue about bullying: so often the person being bullied is told not to let the bully get his goat. People really should teach bullies to leave the goat alone more often. Anyway, Max had written a letter to Santa ultimately wishing for good things to happen for his family and for Christmas to be the way it used to be. He ultimately tears it up and throws it out the window, which causes a nasty blizzard and a power outage for the neighborhood.
Over the next few days, the family is trapped together in a house with no heat, in sub zero weather. The effects of the blizzard actually go a long way in creating a sense of isolation and entrapment for the family. Large icicles cover the houses in the neighborhood, and the interiors look like a war zone. It creates more of a sense of terror and unease than the rather comical helpers of Krampus (there have been horror movies with much more terrible special effects though. These weren’t bad, just a bit silly). Beth is the first person to get attacked and dragged to the underworld. The initial scene makes her fate look ambiguous because her voice is used to lure others into traps later in the film. It’s somewhat convincing when Tom and Howard go out looking for her, but when her cousins are lured into the attic later, it’s completely ridiculous.
Throughout the film, the members of the family slowly learn to appreciate and respect each other. Ultimately, everyone gets dragged to the underworld, but Krampus and his helpers. Max tries to take back his wish, but Krampus merely laughs and drops him into the bottomless pit of fire. He wakes up in his bed and everything seems to be back to normal. The family happily opens presents until Max opens one that has an ornament from Krampus inside. The memories of the past few days come back, and the camera backs away to Krampus watching them in a snow globe in his work shop. Now when I watched the film, my personal interpretation was that Krampus had the family (along with other victims) trapped in some eternal illusion inside his snow globe, but I’ve read a couple of other interpretations that Krampus was simply watching them to make sure they didn’t forget what would happen if they lost hope. That begs a couple of questions. Would they have been motivated to keep the Christmas spirit out of love or would they simply have been trying to avoid being dragged to the underworld? Knowing what they knew, could they have ever gotten their hope back.
‘Krapus’ isn’t the greatest satire ever made, but it does get people thinking while having some decent, but twisted entertainment value. If people have the time and money, they could catch a matinee, though there are other films more worth the time.