The wife and I went to see Krampus on Friday and I was having trouble summing up my feelings on the topic, so I decided to check out what the Redditors were saying. The following article is the result of me spending an hour reading Krampus reviews on Reddit. There will be spoilers.
OLD-FASHIONED SPECIAL EFFECTS
Redditor is short for “Reddit predator,” and some people really live up to that name, but when it comes to the Krampus special effects there was one particular person on Reddit who summed up the film’s ingenuity quite succinctly:
In a world where horror films now are filled with [expletive deleted] CGI, I was so relieved to see them use actual prosthetic and animatronics on all the creatures and Krampus himself. My girlfriend and I agreed that the movie was a lot scarier because they were something that was actually there. A tangible object is way more scarier than a CGI one.
This was probably my biggest take-home from the film as well. The CG was mostly limited to the actions of gingerbread men and a lumbering Krampus as he jumps from rooftop to rooftop. When it was used, it was pretty fantastic, but it was used sparingly. Instead, Krampus made use of fantastic set design, masks, costumes, and machines. The balance was similar to Steven Spielberg’s vision for Jurassic Park. My hope is that other films will follow Krampus‘s lead, because an overuse of computer effects has made today’s films feel kind of inauthentic and lazy.
There’s a lot of confusion regarding the details of what actually happened at the end of the film and what it means. Was the entire town imprisoned in a snow globe or just one family? When were they placed in the snow globe? Was the grandmother in a snow globe within a snow globe because of her two encounters with Krampus? I’m going to try to break this down.
Krampus comes when people have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas through selfishness, materialism, and indifference. He is summoned when the last true believer in Santa Claus and the positive mythology of Christmas loses faith and wishes evil on his/her kin. Krampus uses magic to enter our realm and isolate us from one another using inclement weather. Once this has happened, each family member is murdered and brought to hell, and this happens with every family in the community, until the only person left is the one who wished Krampus into our world. The last survivor is given a Krampus ornament/memento as a permanent reminder of the consequences of his/her actions.
All right, so this is what happens within our reality, but what happens in Krampus’s reality?
I’m not going to quibble on this one. The film makes it clear that Krampus brings the various family members to hell, and hell is depicted as a series of snow globes. Each snow globe is filled with one particular family from one of the towns that Krampus has destroyed over the years. Within the snow globe there is a feeling like life has continued as normal, but there is a constant reminder that you are in hell and you got there because of how you all treated one another.
But what about the individuals who summon Krampus and doom their loved ones to hell?
Those who summon Krampus are the only people who are spared from death and damnation. This is why the grandmother was not placed in a snow globe when she first encountered Krampus. She carried the guilt of receiving a Krampus ornament with her for her entire life. It wasn’t until her grandson summoned Krampus that she finally met her doom. Her fate was with the rest of her modern family in a snow globe, but her old world family was in a separate snow globe in hell without her. Under normal circumstances, Max, the boy who summoned Krampus in modern times, would have been safe from his fate, but because he returned and challenged Krampus he joined his family in hell. By revoking Krampus’s gift (a double-edged sword, certainly), he doomed himself to hell with his family.
Obviously, I’m open to other interpretations, but I thought advancing a positive concept of what happened in Krampus would at least be a good start.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
I read a couple of comments that suggested that Krampus was morally arbitrary. One person pointed out that Krampus comes not to reward but to punish people who have forgotten the importance of giving and sacrifice, and yet many of the characters died in a self-sacrificial way. In other words, they all learned their lessons but were punished anyways. Furthermore, there were a couple of innocents who were punished alongside the guilty. Because of these facts, some people found the moral nature of this cautionary tale lacking.
In my opinion, this represents a misunderstanding of the moral of the story. The murders are not meant to be redemptive for the people who committed the crimes against Christmas. One person is left alive so the tale can serve to teach others not to make the same mistake. Though Max brings about the destruction, it is the corporate sins of the society that he is a part of that are being punished, and that means that everyone is involved whether baby or dog or otherwise. Someone is not a good person if the choice is between being good or losing everyone they have ever loved. A person is good because of concern for others, habitual good deeds, and learning from mistakes. The lesson Krampus taught Max when he rejected the boy’s offer to take his cousin’s place in hell is that you cannot take serious matters such as these lightly. Life never agrees to take-backsies. Some things, like death, are final. If that doesn’t sound like a moral, then I don’t know what would.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
There was an individual who described the grandmother’s foreign language subtitles sporadic and inconsistent, wondering why inane issues at the beginning were subtitled while other more dire issues later on were left untranslated except occasionally by her son.
The translated/not translated speech of the grandmother was one of the little artistic ditties that I enjoyed the most once I figured out what they were doing. Whenever the grandmother was in a room speaking with people who understood what she was saying, her speech was subtitled. The Redditor said that only Max’s father understood her, but Max understood her as well. The difference is that Max never spoke the foreign language back to the grandmother. He merely understood. Whenever everyone in the room understood her speech, so did we. If the room as a whole did not understand what she was saying, like every time she shared the room with the mother’s side of the family, it was left untranslated. If the people in the room generally didn’t understand her, neither did we.
A lot of these issues – the snow globes, the moral, the subtitles – seem to stem from a belief that the people making this movie didn’t know what they were doing. If we start from the perspective that they have a reason for everything they do and this movie isn’t completely random and arbitrary, it is actually pretty easy to understand what is going on. To me, this only adds to the appeal of the film.
THE HORROR, THE HORROR
The Reddit Krampus audience had quite a mix of positive and negative reviews, and I was happy to see some of the more positive comments and general discussion questions were upvoted. The following quote summed up my own personal feelings about the movie’s horror content much like the commenter above who loved the physical effects:
I’m definitely not an expert on horror, but this movie is the first movie I can recall ever genuinely terrifying me. All those creatures in the attic, and any scene with Krampus.
For me, Krampus was terrifying because it wasn’t clear that it was meant to be a horror movie. This means that the audience didn’t immediately write-off all of the characters as expendable. Because it walked the line between family comedy and horror, you felt like everyone, including the annoying in-laws, deserved to live. Throw in the fact that children were placed into situations with real danger, and I was a mess. I was honestly really shaken during the entire “toys in the attic” scene.
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I honestly think that Krampus is going to become a permanent fixture in the holiday canon alongside White Christmas, Gremlins, Die Hard, Rare Exports, and The Shining. Though the film’s reviews weren’t exactly stellar it managed to dethrone the fourth Hunger Games film as the #1 film in America and is likely to reach cult classic status in no time. The Christmas horror genre is one of my favorite categories of film, especially those involving ancient traditions surrounding the holiday. The more, the merrier. I’m happy to add Krampus to my yearly repertoire.