Travis: Okay, so it looks like Krampus performed better than initial estimates had projected. That’s great! It’s nice to see a victory for horror, no matter how minor, and no matter what anyone thought of the movie. That being said, I think you and I diverge pretty hard in what we thought of Krampus.
Drew: Seeing as how we already know how I feel about Krampus (my review), what are your thoughts on Michael Dougherty’s latest holiday horror offering?
Travis: I think there’s a lot to like about it. I was grinning like a fool through the first ten minutes or so. But soon after, it started to feel off. I didn’t like the structure of the narrative. I think it’s a handsomely crafted creature flick with a half-baked story.
I know one of the big reasons you’re positive on it is that it’s a pretty remarkable concept for younger audiences — a throwback to the kids’ horror movies of yesteryear. I get that, but I think it would’ve been much more successful if this wasn’t such an ensemble piece. The character who sets the whole story in motion, Max, is sidelined quite early. The perspective shifts to the adults, who carry and propel the film until they all get Krampus’d.
Drew: I’ll vibe a bit with that. The main kid does get backgrounded for most of the second act, but I didn’t mind it so much because A) he’s no junior Olivier, and B) I really like everyone in the ensemble, especially because most of them start off as insufferable and end up being slightly endearing, especially Koechner’s character.
I think there is something being attempted when it comes to a child feeling overwhelmed and saddened at what happens to people when they grow up, which makes the ending (which was actually slyly spoiled by the film’s initial poster) all sorts of twisted. Max is never going to grow up. So I’m not terribly off-put by the focus on the grownups, but if you are wanting more of a kid’s perspective, I can see that being a minus.
Travis: It’s not just a kid’s perspective that’s missing — it’s Max’s, specifically. He’s such a non-presence throughout the meat of the movie. He loves Christmas so much he’ll kick another kid’s ass at a pageant, but why? What are the stakes for him? Why does he love Christmas more than other kids? Why is he special? Most of the adult characters are transplants from Christmas Vacation, except they’re not nearly as funny or endearing. Most of them end up changed by the climax of the film, but I never felt the film established why we should care about them. The most interesting dynamic in the movie is the one between Omi, Max, and Max’s dad. There’s a bit of magic and spark in that generational thing, with them all speaking German.
Drew: I saw Max’s strong love of Christmas coming from his grandma (their initial exchange was great), and now that he’s gotten old enough to learn that there is no Santa and sees how awful his family has become, he’s violently denying his encroaching adult cynicism. That’s a big thematic reason for the Black Friday opening.
Travis: He’s trying to hold on to something from earlier in his childhood — a memory of how things used to be. We should’ve seen that memory, to let us understand Max’s state of mind a bit more. His letter goes into it a little bit, but I wish it had been set up a bit more. Also, the fact that he was set up as a scrappy kid with an attitude is useless. The narrative forces him to become this passive background character.
Drew: So no bueno on Maximilian for you. Was there anything in the film that you unequivocally loved? The tone? The monsters? Please tell me you dug Krampus’ rooftop game of hopscotch as much as I.
Travis: Yeah, that was cool. I would’ve loved to see the film take the monsters a bit further. If you’re gonna tell me that Krampus has two faces, don’t play coy and never show the real one. Still, that moment of him climbing out of the fireplace is great. The practical monster is crazy-cool. Amazing presence on screen. On the whole, I think the monsters were fun.
Oh, just as an aside, that shot of Augustus Gloop’s legs disappearing up the chimney was the scariest thing in the movie for me. It was really haunting.
Drew: I loved how this film managed to have its cake and eat it too in regards to being childishly fun and ridiculously mean-spirited. When Krampus wipes away Max’s tear and then laughs as Max’s cousin is dropped into a Hell-pit, I busted out laughing.
Travis: That was a good moment, but I think the movie could’ve pushed the sadism a bit more. I actually feel like it was a bit tame, even for PG-13. Don’t just show me the characters wrestling with mean toys — there should be more scratching and biting and stabbing, for chrissakes!
I also think the movie looks really good. I can normally spot digital cinematography immediately, but this looks rich and soft in the right places. Dougherty and his DP made great choices in anamorphic lenses and lighting.
Drew: Krampus is a great looking movie. Yet another reason to give it praise in the arena it’s playing in. I’m liking that well-shot horror movies are making a comeback, and Krampus has the added benefit of having killer production design and style. Speaking of style, I adored Omi’s animated tale. And Krampus’ wink at her might be one of my favorite moments in the movie.
Travis: Oh man, that animated sequence was good, but I sincerely hope they contacted Laika to do it. Laika obviously didn’t do it, so we got faux-Laika, but it still looked good. I also liked the sequence where Scott and Koechner go out searching in the blizzard, and come across the frozen aftermath of a Krampus attack. The whole sequence feels like an homage to Carpenter’s The Thing, where the men go to the Norwegian camp. There’s even a knife embedded in the fridge, recalling the axe from The Thing.
And speaking of humor, I felt it was sorely lacking. The jokes were kind of broad and easy. I think I laughed once. Just to give you an idea of how I felt, when the dog eats the gingerbread man, the movie considers that a joke. The punchline is just… the dog. That’s like something a three-year-old laughs at.
Drew: I laughed quite a bit (the opening credits are a highlight), but more at just how much fun I was having. To be fair, I’m making an argument that this movie is for a broader and younger audience, not so much the usual horror fan crowd. I think pandering to the horror audience in order to make a real quick buck hurts the quality of a lot of wide-release horror films. This is an instance where I’m OK with the movie going for easier laughs because it’s trying to capture an easier audience (specifically kids), and I think the box office reflects that. I can see current horror fans not being crazy about this movie, but kids who watch it now will grow up to be horror fans.
Travis: Writing four-quadrant humor is HARD. That’s why Pixar’s Inside Out is such a marvel. It’s funny to everyone. But I’ll concede that Krampus is aimed toward younger audiences, so the humor may work for them. Then we have budgetary constraints tying into the structural issues. The movie is a contained narrative. It’s a story about people stuck in a house — one room, mostly. Keeping a movie engaging in such a small setting is not easy, and I think Krampus kind of fumbles it. Instead of wondering WHAT was gonna happen next, I occasionally found myself wondering WHEN something would happen next. Which is to say, between major sequences, I got a little antsy. The flick cost a reported $15M to make. The production values are top notch. But they had to keep the movie very contained. Small sets and limited locations.
Drew: The movie’s pacing and beats will definitely be irksome to many. As I mentioned in my review, I kind of appreciate a horror movie that saves it all for the third act and just goes nuts. I’m OK with action being sparse if the movie delivers in the homestretch, and Krampus absolutely does that. Everyone gets offed, the evil toys are a blast, the entire pagan elves ritual towards the end is crazy, and the final twist is so delightfully wicked.
If anything, I want another dive into the world of Krampus than I do Trick ‘r Treat. It feels like there’s a lot more to explore there (including what’s under Krampus’ fucked-up Santa mask, I’ll admit), especially thanks to that reveal with all the snow globes.
Travis: I may not be so hot on Krampus, but I’m hot on the idea of a Krampus 2. If Dougherty did it, I’d go see it. The toy box is open, and there are a lot of toys to play with. The film’s companion comic book explores more Krampus scenarios, but I’d love to see a more ambitious sequel where the kids really drive the narrative the whole way.
One last question — why is there a baby in this movie? And what happens to it? I know it gets Krampus’d and ends up in the snow globe, but it must’ve been snatched when they leave the house and are attacked by the snow-graboid.
Drew: Because no one ever thinks the baby will get harmed. And it’s stolen by the elves when they break in, so I’m assuming it made friends with the Hell-pit. What were your thoughts on the family being snowglobed? Was it a satisfactory ending for you?
Travis: It’s an odd ending, because it’s kind of open and unexplained — do they realize they are imprisoned? Are they really as happy as they seem? The last shot has so much finality, but there were a lot of lingering questions in my head as to whether the family was getting what they deserved or not. In a way, they’re in hell.
Drew: I think they know, thanks to Krampus’ bell and Omi’s defeated demeanor. And I like that their Hell is, in a way, what Max wished for. That’s what makes it so twisted.
I’ll give you the final word on this one, since my review adequately sums up my adoration of this movie.
Travis: Krampus is interesting and fresh in concept. It’s beautifully lit, shot, and scored. The monsters and effects used to bring them to life are amazing. But the narrative that’s supposed to bind all these things and elevate them is a flat-out mess. That being said, I’m left wanting more of the gifts Krampus brought this year.