When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family's home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.
Like a Sam Raimi horror comedy, 'Krampus' blends the genres and wraps it with a neat little bow. With an opening that rivals that of 'Zombieland', it kicks off with a slow-motion introduction of Black Friday mayhem set to a traditional version of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." This kick-off establishes that what we're about to see is indeed a comedy, but one that has some serious and truthful elements to it. You're going to laugh a lot, but you're also going to see some undeniably creepy imagery. Don't let the PG-13 rating fool you. Without being graphic or gross, 'Krampus' delivers the freaky goods.
In this ensemble, Adam Scott and Toni Collette play two busy and somewhat neglectful parents. They not only neglect their children, but one another. They live a wealthy lifestyle, one that neither of their two teenage children take for granted. With her parents being disconnected, it's no surprise that the daughter is also disconnected. She solely cares about spending the holiday with her boyfriend - but the younger son the opposite. He's the innocent and untainted one in the family. He's hopeful that this Christmas will be like those of perfect childhood memories.
This Christmas brings their mildly damaged family together with the dysfunctional family of an aunt, uncle and their misfit kids. The uncle (David Koechner) plays the "Cousin Eddie" of this Christmas vacation. The aunt (Alison Tolman) isn't so bad, but their three crappy children (and baby) are bound to make it three days of hell.
Despite the negativity, the son is determined to genuinely make this Christmas a selfless and good one. In his wishlist to Santa, he asks for his parents to fall in love again, for his sister to be his best friend again, for the aunt and uncle to be in a better place financially, and for their children to be loved and accepted by their wacky parents. After a "look at what you did you little jerk" family fight, with his spirits broken, he tears up the letter and literally throws it into the wind, which is the act that summons Krampus and his evil minions.
The family awakens the next morning to find that an unexpected storm has blown in, dumped feet of snow, and knocked the power out. For this holiday, a group of people that can't stand each other are forced to spend more undivided time with one another than they've ever wanted – but little do they know that the terrors that lie ahead will bring them closer together than they've ever been. Once Krampus and his evil army of elves, toys and gingerbread men enter the picture, personal qualms and family beefs go out the window. Literally.
For the majority of the movie, the horror element has a sense of levity and fun to it, but it gets a little darker, a little more grave, and a little more deadly in the final act. It alternately ends up feeling like a morality play tale told to strike fear into the hearts of children who become too selfish, too self-involved, and lose the holiday spirit during the hap-happiest time of the year.
Being both comedically entertaining and eerily terrifying, 'Krampus' has found its way into my heart, as well as my holiday movie rotation.
'Krampus' kills Christmas with a near-perfect 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode and wide 2.40:1 video presentation. Each act of the freaky holiday picture carries its own color palette, but doesn't vary in sharpness or detail in the slightest. Nearly every frame is chock full of rich textures and fine lines. Fabric textures are abundantly clear. When the characters forage through the subzero blizzard, their perfect facial features are covered by visible ice particles and melted snow.
The first act of the movie is filled with bright and pleasant colors. As the gray storm rolls in and power is lost, the second act features deceptively warm and cozy fireside lighting. And with all signs of hope dwindling in the final act, the palette turns bleak, cold and lifeless. Only two flaws made themselves apparent throughout, both of which appear mildly and without frequency. The first is banding. Plenty of the movie unravels in low lighting, but the only lighting element to cause very occasional and mild banding is a flashlight. The second flaw is somewhat connected. While the black levels are mostly strong, the use of digital cameras makes for some very dark settings to result in crushing. Fortunately, this flaw is also fleeting.
'Krampus' arrives with a solid 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that helps intensify the on-screen terror. The effects mix is the most obvious and effective part of it. Following the slow-motion intro, we enter the family home and neighborhood for the duration of the movie. At any given time, wind can be heard howling outside, giving it an effective ambiance. Even the dull moments of the movie keep up this environmental greatness. Once the horror begins, the audio revs up with dynamics. All channels become lit up with loud effects, including loads of LFE. The sounds of the titular character's creepy dangling chains, bells and stomping hooves are fun to listen to. They combine to make the sound effects of nightmares. Seamlessly imaging effects from off-screen elements also add another layer of tension.
The dialog track is loud and clear. Despite the high volume effects, not a single word is buried beneath them. Just like the chaotic family gather moments in 'Home Alone,' background banter is spread throughout the channels. Playing along fully with the other aspects of the mix is great music mixing. The score is composed of excellent recognizable Christmas music that plays well against the scary moments.
2015 gave us three new Christmas classics to throw into the holiday movie-watching rotation: 'The Night Before,' 'The Hateful Eight' and, now, 'Krampus.' Master of horror Michael Dougherty delivers one of the most fun '80s-like horror comedies since 'Gremlins.' Thanks to a great cast and playful screenplay, 'Krampus' lands in the same fun zone as movies like Sam Raimi's 'Drag Me to Hell.' With great video and audio qualities and a plentiful selection of special features, don't wait until Christmas to give yourself this nice little gift.