The Paranormal Activity franchise has survived primarily off its one horror device: to infiltrate the place we feel most safe and secure (our bedroom, at night) and make us feel so vulnerable, and it’s an anxiety that allows for the horror series to maintain its fear factor. It’s this exact same area where Michael Dougherty’s Krampus comes into its element, except this really is violating our personal space, because if there one place we feel most at ease, and comfortable and immensely cosy – it’s during Christmas, at our parents house. What could possibly go wrong? Well, terrifyingly, it seems quite a lot, actually.
When youngster Max (Emjay Anthony) decides he no longer believes in Santa – he entices the presence of the maleficent, fabled demon Krampus – who preys upon those who have lost their faith in Christmas. You’d think that during the festive period at least you’d be likely to die amongst those you love the most, but not in this case – for Max’s parents Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) are doing their utmost to put up with the latter’s vexing relatives, as her sister Linda (Allison Tolman) is staying with her gun-toting husband Howard (David Koechner) and her unbearable Aunt Dorothy (Donchata Ferrell). But any fractions amongst the group are put to the side, when Max’s older sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) doesn’t return home from her boyfriend’s house, and things start to go bump in the night.
Dougherty cleverly sets this tale up as a familiar, festive family comedy that appears to be following all of the beats of the genre – only to then become a sadistic, unrelenting horror. This falls comfortably into the anti-Christmas genre, alongside the likes of Bad Santa and Scrooged, ridiculing the notion of joy and contradicting it in a playful manner. Krampus comes equipped with a human element too, helped along by the credentials of the cast – as when casting the likes of Collette and Scott, suddenly you lose that sense of irreverence that can bog down horrors, whereby no death feels implicative. In this instance, you fear for Beth’s wellbeing and pray, for her parents sake, she is returned home safely. But the family aspects never once compromise the horror, as a film that is scary throughout, which is, in part, thanks to the fact the eponymous antagonist is an elusive presence. It helps so much as whatever they look like in reality is never quite as terrifying as what we picture in our over-imaginative minds.
And yet, bizarrely, there remains something oddly festive about this endeavor, as despite the violence and the gore, Dougherty is sure to revel in the notion of family, this idea that, while we may not necessarily enjoy the constant stream of family time during Christmas, they are family, and that counts for something – so deal with it. After all, if Krampus comes a-calling, you’ve gotta work together to stay alive.