Anyone visiting extended family members over the break knows there are certain relatives that can get on our nerves — the overly assertive grandmother, the slightly racist uncle or the aunt who has just a bit too much wine each year. Director Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus” is much like one of these family members. Annoying, infuriating and at some points completely nonsensical, “Krampus” has succeeded in punishing any moviegoer naughty enough to see it.
The premise is predictably simple. A young boy named Max loses his Christmas spirit due to his dysfunctional family’s constant bickering and, in turn, unknowingly summons Krampus, an Austrian demon who punishes children by kidnapping them and taking them to the underworld. Krampus is anti-Santa, complete with satanic sleigh and mischievous elves.
The family dynamic is almost identical to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” with Max’s family resembling the Griswolds — upper-middle class, white picket fence types that have lost their ability to connect with each other. Chaos ensues when their lower-class, conservative extended family comes to stay with them (a la “ Christmas Vacation”) and ideologies clash.
The film tries to use this dynamic of opposing family structures as a mechanism to poke fun at current issues like gun control and consumerism, but doing so ends up creating characters so stereotypical and one-dimensional that I found myself guessing what they were going to say before they said it. The dialogue is worn-out and feels recycled, making the first act a complete chore to sit through. At some points it’s as if Dougherty ripped entire pages from the scripts of movies like “Talladega Nights” and “Relative Strangers,” not good source material.
Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) and David Koechner (“Anchorman”) play the fathers of each family and do what they do best — Scott being passive and awkward, and Koechner being humorously ignorant. The supporting cast gave sub-par performances as well, with the exception of Conchata Ferrell (“Two and a Half Men”) who is laughably bad as the trashy Aunt Dorothy.
Though the writing and performances weren’t even close to spectacular, the film’s true downfall was its pacing. The story of Krampus is not explained in the film until late in the second act, causing his terrorizing of the family to feel unwarranted. Any moviegoer that has not previously brushed up on their Austrian folklore may feel out of the loop for quite some time.
The actual scenes of Krampus and his minions attacking the family are also so horribly paced and quickly edited that they seem to begin and end in a matter of seconds, building very little tension and creating a horror movie with no scares. This is a shame, because the creatures have some of the creepiest designs I have seen all year. It seems Dougherty had to cut a lot of the action to obtain a PG-13 rating.
With its shallow characters, tired jokes and tensionless pacing, “Krampus” has earned a permanent spot on the naughty list. I urge everyone to give the $8 you would have spent on a ticket to The Salvation Army and watch “Santa’s Slay” at home instead. I give “Krampus” three demonic reindeer out of eight.