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Film in Review

By Bill Arceneaux

How could it be that Krampus, a film about a reverse Santa that comes to reign hell on a cranky family, has jumped to near the top of my favorite movies list for 2015? In a year that has seen two Pixar flicks AND will see a new Tarantino? Isn’t the horror genre “beneath” such a thing? Especially this kind of schlock horror?

I don’t see how anybody could dismiss Krampus. The synopsis might be silly, sure, but it’s handled exactly how it should be handled, with a genuineness few major releases capture.

All throughout, I understood its playfulness and charm, but never got that “look how funny we are” or “ain’t we cute?” feeling. It’s never tragically ironic or laughing with the audience at itself. Where others would be obnoxiously self aware, winking and nodding at every turn, Krampus is solely involved with realizing a vision of XMAS rarely seen since the classic Gremlins. It’s not the same as Gremlins—that would’ve been a disappointment. Perhaps it was influenced more by that movie’s sense of humor than anything. There is a spirit of jesterly cheer and deviously smart creeps that goes against today’s cynical and self-serious nature. Perhaps it was influenced more by a time gone by than anything.

The majority of its success comes from the fact that what we’re really watching is a domestic holiday drama, about an extended family that learns to unburden their bitterness towards one another. Of course, jokes are had at the expense of the turmoil, like when attitudes flare and grumps take over, or when relatives act foreign and weird. These bursts are funny because, I’m sure, we’ve all experienced awkwardness during this time of year. Poor relations, jealousy and annoyances even. It’s all distilled in one boy’s belief in the reason for the season, something that tragically sours quickly, and births a scenario that will bond these people together, if by force at first. Unexpectedly, Krampus is one of the sweetest family films I’ve seen in awhile.

Twisted and sentimental.

I think what I love most is that it’s a fun turn of connotation on the themes of Santa and the naughty or nice list. The movie opens with a slo-mo sequence of holiday shoppers, breaking into a department store, fighting with each other for purchases. Images of fisticuffs and money exchanges are juxtaposed with classic Christmas music. We’re set up from the get go to think it’ll be more about what we’ve turned the holiday into, and how the spirit has been lost. Almost a revenge flick, with Krampus doing Santa’s deeds. But really, it’s about rediscovering what was always there, buried, but not gone, and unearthing it the hard way.

Santa is always watching, always. List at the ready. So… be nice, dammit.

I don’t know if Krampus will be remembered in years to come in the same way that It’s a Wonderful Life is, but I’m not concerned with that. Krampus is not so bad it’s good or in on the joke, or any other backwards positive. It’s so good it’s great. It’s so heart warming, it’s scary. It’s such a pleasant surprise, it might as well be a big box present.

And that’s why it will be ranked on my 2015 favorites list.

5 / 5 *s

For more from the author, follow him on Twitter at @BillReviews.

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