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At the movies: Have yourself a cranky little Christmas

Lisa Miller
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
This photo provided by Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures shows Emjay Anthony as Max in Legendary Pictures’ "Krampus."
Steve Unwin/Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures via A | Legendary Pictures and Universal

KRAMPUS

C-

Directed By Michael Dougherty

Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Krista Stadler, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Lolo Owen, Queenie Samuel, Maverick Flack

Rated PG-13, Horror, Comedy, 98 minutes

Co-written by director Michael Dougherty, the script for “Krampus” coopts Germanic folklore, admonishing us to carefully stoke the Christmas spirit lest we invite dire consequences.

The set up depicts Tom and Sarah (Adam Scott and Toni Collette), along with their teen daughter Beth and pubescent son Max (Stefania LaVie Owen and Emjay Anthony), as they prepare to share another holiday with obnoxious, visiting relatives. Included are: Sarah’s drunken Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell), Sarah’s nice, but ineffectual sister Linda (Allison Tolman), Linda’s survivalist husband Howard (David Koechner), the pair’s mean-spirited twin teen daughters (Lolo Owen and Queenie Samuel), and their chubby snack-obsessed younger brother (Maverick Flack). Tom’s side of the family is represented by his live-in mother, a kindly old-world German they call Omi (Krista Stadler).

After a contentious dinner with his busybody great aunt, ludicrous uncle and taunting cousins, Max tears up his letter to Santa that asks for everyone’s lives to be made better. This act causes the skies to darken and a blinding winter storm to descend, bringing with it a power and phone outage as well as Krampus and his minions.

Omi, who as a child, had her own run-in with Krampus, warns that he punishes rather than rewards, and takes rather than gives.

Intended to be evil without being overly threatening, the creatures presented by “Krampus” touch the fringes of humor, but never reach our funny bone. For example, each time a neighbor or family member is taken, Max notices that another sad looking (but not comical) snowman appears in the front yard.

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True to form, survivalist uncle Howard has brought rifles, guns and amo that are pressed into service, but these are unable to permanently dispatch the undead creatures. Krampus, swaddled in massive robes, sports huge horns, hoofed feet, and drags around an assortment of chains that serve more to slow him than to capture those he means to punish.

He is preceded by edible, animated gingerbread men who invade the family’s kitchen and giggle as they shoot it up with a nail gun — while upstairs in the attic, a wormlike creature attacks the children, using its porcelain clown head and snakelike jaw to swallow each one whole.

The film seems unable to decide whether Krampus and crew are mischief makers or dealers of death. The attackers pull people into holes or up chimneys, but we sense that no one is truly gone forever.

While the family bickers about how best to rescue missing members or how to save those who remain, the characters we first met remain unchanged. Beyond Max, no one considers his or her role in attracting Krampus’s appearance. These people are who they are.

Surely writer-director Michael Dougherty understands that his message of hope does not come across. The message “Krampus” actually sends goes something like this: No matter how unpleasant the family gathering, things could always be worse. Bring on the egg nog.


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