[Screen It]


(2015) (Adam Scott, Toni Collette) (PG-13)

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Horror: A dysfunctional family's lack of Christmas spirit summons a holiday demon hell-bent on punishing non-believers.
Tom (ADAM SCOTT) and Sarah (TONI COLLETTE) play a well-off suburban couple who are parents to disaffected teen Beth (STEFANIA LaVIE OWEN) and sensitive pre-teen Max (EMJAY ANTHONY). Max still has a firm belief in Santa Claus and writes him a letter thanking him for another year with his German grandma, Omi (KRISTA STADLER), and asking for his family to get along and his mom and dad not to split.

Tensions are elevated in their house when Sarah's envious sister, Linda (ALLISON TOLMAN), and her boorish husband, Howard (DAVID KOECHNER), come for their annual holiday visit. They have just had a baby and are parents to three teenage kids (MAVERICK FLACK, LOLO OWEN, and QUEENIE SAMUEL). They also bring along their crass Aunt Dorothy (CONCHATA FERRELL).

Soon, though, their collective ill will towards one another and their disrespect of the Christmas holiday summons Krampus (LUKE HAWKER), a centuries-old demon who punishes the non-believers. The family is subsequently terrorized by everything from possessed Christmas cookies to diabolical elves to various inanimate objects like a stuffed bear that come to life and attack.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
For films not screened for the reviewing press, we only provide a few paragraphs of critical analysis.

So, I haven't really been buying into this whole "War on Christmas" crusade some folks have been on in recent years. But after the last month or so at the cinema ... eh, maybe they might be onto something. Just before Thanksgiving, Hollywood gave us "Love the Coopers" in which a deeply unhappy family comes together for a Christmas Eve to deal with matters of divorce, martial separation, shoplifting, unemployment, dementia, and grandpa having a stroke at the holiday table. A couple of weeks later, Tinseltown brought out "The Night Before" in which Seth Rogen goes on all-night drug bender, pro football player Anthony Mackie tries to cover up his dependency on performance-enhancing drugs, and both try and console Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose mother and father were killed years earlier just before Christmas by a drunk driver. Now we get "Krampus," a horror flick about another dysfunctional family who becomes trapped inside a house on Christmas Eve and stalked by a centuries-old demon who preys on holiday non-believers. Everybody now! "Oh, you better watch out..."

Actually, "Krampus" is a mild surprise, folks. The film mixes in some pretty good jump scares with dark comedy and lets its surprisingly good cast do much of the heavy lifting. Toni Collette and Adam Scott are parents to a teenage daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen) and young son Max (Emjay Anthony), who all have to be on their best behavior when mom's sister and her boorish, Cousin Eddie-like gun-nut husband and their four kids come for the holidays along with their crass Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). They end up wrecking Max's belief in Santa Claus, he ends up hating Christmas, and together they end up summoning a centuries-old demon who punishes non-believers.

The title character is a bit of a bust. Except for an exceptional introductory scene in which he terrorizes the teen daughter in a blizzard, jumping from suburban rooftop to suburban rooftop, there's not much to him. But his minions are absolutely wicked, ranging from a bunch of homicidal Christmas cookies come to life to some demonic elves eager to kill, kill, kill.

This film kind of wants to be the "Gremlins" for the Eli Roth demographic. And it doesn't quite hit that bullseye. But it is beautifully photographed, well-acted, and holds your interest throughout. And the closing scene would have Jean-Paul Sartre rising up from his movie-theater seat and yelling "Oh $#@% yeah!" Good show. I give it a 5.5 out of 10 (T. Durgin)

Reviewed December 3, 2015 / Posted December 4, 2015

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