Krampus posits a confrontation between what Americans want Christmas to be and the traditions which make it what it is. Michael Dougherty opens his film with a mob rush evoking Black Friday (though it’s set December 23) and some background noise about the so-called “War on Christmas”, then checks off a series of holiday film conflicts, mainly family squabbles over food and presents, parents growing apart and other bad history. Fed up with all of it, a boy shreds his note to Saint Nick, unfortunately drawing attention from a goat-like, demonic opposite, the Krampus
Dougherty opts for a slow burn, tension and jokes arising more out of family dysfunction than the nasty creatures besieging them. The film’s bulk is devoted to arguments and gutter-sniping and weak attempts to bond when a snowstorm leaves them stranded. Once the attacks do come, Krampus skirts that line between PG-13 and R by making the nightmarish outlandish: cackling gingerbread men wielding candy canes like stilettos, evil angel dolls, and jack-in-the-boxes with three-way jaws (perfect for swallowing children whole). Their arrival puts the family in panic mode, but they divine a dramatic arc. They begin acting as a unit, then sacrificing themselves when their plans fall through. Their holiday mentality is a chimera of Christianity and capitalism born of Hallmark sentiment. Each expects favorable outcomes (either for them or their loved ones) from conforming to certain behaviors. The pagan Krampus laughs at this, his only goal to equalize a situation.
It’s an approach similar to Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell: bad actors, attempting to bargain or amend for their actions, being rebuffed by an absolutist, supernatural force. Krampus never quite lands the impact, though: too many characters, their growth happening in jumps. The climax is similarly quick, victim whisked away like they’re being crossed off a list. Laudable as its ideas are, they aren’t strong enough to support so weak a structure.