This review contains some spoilers, but that probably doesn’t matter because I doubt you’ll want to see the movie by the time we’re done. Krampus starts out looking like a standard Christmas movie with Adam Scott and Toni Collette’s family getting ready for the arrival of Collette’s sister, her Cousin Eddie-like husband (David Koechner), and their flock of kids. When they show up, they also unexpectedly bring along their crabby old aunt, played by the actress who’s basically the TV Kathy Bates. The only thing I can remember her from is E/R–that’s E/R, the comedy with George Clooney and Elliot Gould, not ER, the drama with George Clooney and Anthony Edwards–but she’s been in a lot of other stuff and I’m sure you’ll recognize her.
Once everyone arrives, there are a few scenes that set up the Krampus story and try to be funny but mostly fail. Koechner’s the only one who even approaches funny, and that’s just because it’s hard for David Koechner to act like a blowhard and not be funny. He might have been able to fill Randy Quaid’s ugly white shoes with a halfway decent script, but the writers didn’t give him much to work with. He probably would have been funnier if they’d just let him ad lib.
The next morning, everyone wakes up to find that they’re snowed in and the power’s out, so of course they let their teenage daughter leave to wander around outside. She gets maybe-killed by Krampus, but that doesn’t really matter because the rest of the family doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about her. They don’t even consider going to look for her until several hours after she was supposed to be back (when it’s conveniently dark again) and even when her dad (Scott) hears her screaming, he decides to ignore her to save Koechner (who he doesn’t particularly like) from Krampus and get him home safely. After that, the family briefly discusses maybe going back out to look for her, but basically decide…nah. Note this lack of shits to give for the kid isn’t played for laughs–they’re not setting her up as a Meg Griffin character–they just don’t bother. If her disappearance wasn’t the thing that lets the others know something weird’s going on, I would have guessed that the sister character was added at the last minute.
In addition to the cavalier attitude that the family takes to their daughter being lost in a blizzard, this is the part of the movie where you realize this thing just isn’t working. Rather than doing horror in funny way or sprinkling comedy in with the horror, the horror and comedy parts of the movie are clearly separated. Even worse, the comedy isn’t good. At all. I think I laughed three times during the whole movie, and two of them were at Koechner screaming profanities.
About halfway through, the movie gets a little better, but that’s mostly because the horror plot is moving too fast to stop for comedy bits. The only real attempt at comedy is the only actual horror-comedy scene in the whole movie, and probably the only scene of any type in the movie that actually works: Koechner in a life-or-death battle with some gingerbread men. Unfortunately, that’s the high point. The movie briefly looks like it will redeem itself a little (and actually parallel the grandmother’s flashback), but wimps out and tacks on a standard happy ending for people who need that kind of thing. Then the writers decide that the happy ending is too much like a storytelling choice and tack on a third ambiguous ending that’s objectively worse than either of the previous two. It’s like they’re trying to make you hate them. And succeeding.
The most disappointing thing about Krampus is that you can tell that it could have been a really good movie with a better script. It’s got a good cast of actors who manage to be mostly likable despite playing characters written so poorly you couldn’t possibly care about them. The horror parts of the story work, and a few of them are really well done. The movie looks great, has some cool creature effects, and even has a well-done animated segment that doesn’t seem out of place. Most bad movies are a group effort, but in this case it looks like everyone but the writers actually knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, their competence was drowned out by the awful script.
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A frustrating failure.