Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday Review: Krampus

I was nervous going into Krampus. I tried to keep telling myself that it was simply unrealistic to expect Michael Dougherty to match the glory of Trick 'R Treat in his sophomore film. Lightning never strikes twice, of course. And a PG-13 rating should completely kill any chance of a worthy follow-up.

That said, as the time to see the film approached, I couldn't stop my anticipation from rising. I became more and more fidgety at work, counting down the precious moments until I could go to the theatre and see the film. Even walking in and buying my popcorn, I was on the verge of breaking down out of fear that the movie would be bad.
Then, I sat down in a dark theatre, and the film began to play. To my shock...the film fully lived up to my expectations, being at least as good as Trick 'R Treat. A day ago I would have suggested removing the tongue of any film critic who dares to say that any film can match Trick 'R Treat, but here I am.
At their core, both of Dougherty's films are quite similar plot-wise. They both involve a powerful Being (Sam and Krampus) coming to oversee the punishment of those who disrespect the spirit and traditions of a holiday. In both cases, the Being is kept mostly in the background, allowing lesser horrors to mete out punishments until quite late in the film, when the Being finally decides to take center-stage.
That said, there are still enough differences to make this film interesting. Where Sam mostly watched independent monsters follow their natural course of punishing transgressors, Krampus seems to be outright ordering his underlings to dish out punishment. This film is also focused on a single family get-together for Christmas, where Trick 'R Treat was an anthology.
Dougherty has also clearly maintained his flair for visual style. The fact that this movie reportedly has a budget of merely $15 million is jaw-dropping. He's an absolute master at creating an atmosphere that's both horrifying, and visually spectacular. As he promised, Dougherty did use many practical effects, but even when he was forced to rely on CGI for some creatures, they look better than would be expected. There's also a flash-back sequence that left me genuinely uncertain whether it was CGI or stop-motion. Either way, it looks visually awesome.
If there is a single effect that doesn't work, it's Krampus himself. He looks fairly lifeless when you see him up close. However, this still works, partially because he's kept in the background for most of the movie, and partially because I suspect he was supposed to appear lifeless. His face looks like it's suffering from rigor mortis.
Above all, however, this movie works because it really is a Christmas movie. Most horror films set at Christmas use the holiday as a backdrop to mock the shallowness of American culture. To this movie, however, the holiday actually means something. A boy's terrible Christmas Eve experience with his extended family causes him to lose faith in Christmas, summoning Krampus to punish the whole family. Dougherty said that he drew inspiration from both A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life, both of which are very dark stories about the nature of Christmas. Their influence is evident.
Another major advantage over most horror films is that no one in this family is actually a bad person. It wouldn't be a Christmas movie if they were. That's one thing that almost every review I've seen or read has gotten wrong. They're family members from different socio-economic backgrounds, with very different values, and thus they don't do well having Christmas dinner together. However, not a single one of them shows any ill-intent, they hurt each other's feelings through obliviousness, and need to learn respect and tolerance for their family members. This is a surprisingly upbeat cast for a scary movie, and most of their interactions are a lot of fun to watch.
As for the PG-13 rating, I'd say it works here. Trick 'R Treat was actually a fairly mild R itself, not showing a lot of the deaths onscreen. That film could have likely been made PG-13 with very little editing, while this film could likely have been turned into an R with the addition of a bit more blood. However, where Trick 'R Treat had a visual aesthetic of reds, browns, and oranges to show the colors of fall, here we have light blue and white as our primary colors. Quite frankly, a lot of bright red blood and gore would just throw off the visual style. So, I suspect the PG-13 may have been an accidental result of a consistent color aesthetic.
The ending leaves us with two interpretations, which I won't spoil. I'll simply say that one is positive, while the other is negative. My cynical brain keeps trying to force the negative interpretation, but I honestly find the happier ending to be more satisfying. Furthermore, a film about the values of giving and selflessness at Christmas really calls for something upbeat to send it off.
I highly recommend this movie. Dougherty's still got it, and I hope that Sam and Kampus get to meet very soon soon. In the meantime, I hope every has a Happy Holiday!

No comments:

Post a Comment