|Either that's one small house or Krampus is huge|
This movie is basically National Lampoons Christmas Vacation Horror Edition. It starts out similarly, abrasive and conflicting family all bottled into one home during the holidays and emotions are brought to a boil. But instead of ending with a kidnapped boss resulting in a huge bonus and a pool for the whole family, they get Krampus, and he doesn't pull any punches just because there are children present. They are fair game in this movie.
I want to avoid spoilers for this movie, so if you think it's worth checking out, go for it. It has one of the most jarring slap to the groin endings I've ever seen, and makes this movie darker than I thought it could be, which is saying a lot. It also has a bit of a Gremlins vibe. I swear they used some of the voices for some of the minions.
I have to give points because this isn't an idiot plot. I mean, there are idiotic moves, but they make sense and isn't purely a case of 'well, need to keep the plot moving, gotta off someone.' Most of the time anyway. They actually do have weapons in this story and use them to good effect, but at the same time it doesn't relieve the tension at all. It's rare when you're well armed in a story but it's still scary. They pull that off. Instead of feeling confidence when they investigate a noise with a shotgun at the ready, you want them to pull back and stay within safety. Sure, the shotty might work, but you don't know what's around the corner. Krampus isn't afraid to unleash a horde of minions on you. He doesn't just want to kill you either. He wants you to be terrified to even breathe. He wants to watch you squirm and watch as everyone you care about is picked off one by one before he moves in for you. That should give some understanding of the horror-craft at work here.
Before I move beyond guns, I would like to give them points for shooting a revolver six times and then ending on an empty chamber. Most movies usually let you get off with nine or twelve, depending on who's directing. Then again later on someone gets off around eight or nine shots with a shotgun that has a six round tube magazine. But hey, they tried. Tried harder than most others.
I think that the characters all come through pretty well. They start off of course as mean-spirited, abrasive, annoying and at points really do go too far and push other characters over the edge. But as the movie progresses and things get bad they do ease up and actually show the better parts they have to offer. I like it when a movie puts characters under pressure and it reveals the best in them, not the worst, although I'm not against that. It's very humanizing and makes them feel more real, apologizing and showing affection even though things aren't peachy. That just sucks you in more since everyone is at risk of dying. I really didn't know how far this movie was going to go. As far as I knew, everyone was fair game, and knew killing everyone, including the kid main character wasn't off the table. That really built up the tension.
Jump scares? There's a few. But I don't think they were abused. Except at the very end. I haaaaaaate it when a horror movie just has things catapulted at your face with a loud burst of music. That's not scary. That's jumping out of a closet and slapping you across the face. Here? They build up the tension nice and slow. They seem to take Alfred Hitchcock's advice to heart: Tension is when there's a bomb under the table and it doesn't go off. Here's it's like there's a bunch of bombs hidden throughout the house, except they go off silently and scurry around cackling as they get ready to mutilate you.
One of the scares actually made me feel physically ill. It was actually pretty disturbing imagery and I flashed back to The Thing when it first tries absorbing the dogs. Brrrrr! I sort of have an issue with clowns, or things that are clowned theme, and this movie didn't help with that. All I can say is if you are a professional clown and you're in my midst, please keep your distance and your hands where I can see them. I can't promise that I won't inflict harm by reflex. Clown stuff just naturally triggers the animal part of my brain that kicks in when my life is in immediate danger.
The imagery, lighting and mood are fantastic. Well, most of the lighting anyway. At points you get strobe lights that make you feel like you're at a rave and I was worried someone was going to get an epileptic seizure. But at points the lighting is amazing. I especially love when it's early in the morning but in only a matter of seconds the light dims and goes dark. It really feels like some onyx cloud moves across the sun and blots it out, rather than just set lighting being turned low.
Only real complaint I can think of is that we see Krampus's face. Chances are he'll come after me for that crack, so if I vanish this Christmas then you'll know what happened. His face isn't bad so much as it is just obviously a mask. It's creepy at first, but it never changes expression and gets a tad silly at certain moments. If it had been a Jim Henson animatronic with shifts in expression it would have been terrifying. However a friend of mine suggested that it might be adhering more to the German tradition of Krampus masks at festivals. If true, then that's actually another point in its favor for getting more of the real lore and tradition down.
I should also mention that they actually try to get real German spoken for the grandmother. They call her Omi which is German for grandmother, although my colleague tells me its Oma, but hey, again, they tried. The flashback scene is also frigging fantastic. They actually have a stop-motion flashback scene explaining how the grandmother knows about Krampus and crap is it good. If it isn't stop-motion but actually animation then holy crap, give those animators some awards cuz I couldn't tell.
It also felt frigging cold in that movie. I really could believe that the actors were freezing their faces off. There are a lot of outside shots and the snowfall and wind effects make it feel like you've really stepped into the middle of a blizzard. It's like frigging John Carpenter's The Thing where you could only see a few feet in any direction because of the snow fall.
Overall, this thing really did get to me. I won't have nightmares, but I actually had to force myself to relax at points because my muscles began tensing in the theater. This whole thing is really solid in my opinion and I'd absolutely go see it again. It may have ruined Christmas for me a bit though. I'll get over it. Nothing cheers the spirit like watching It's A Wonderful Life!
Happy Holidays and Spooky Salutations! Have fun watching the best Christmas horror movie since The Nightmare Before Christmas!