Max (Emjay Anthony) is having a rough holiday season.  Just days before Christmas, he gets into a fight with another kid at a recital, and then his unpleasant extended family come to visit. With an aunt (Allison Tolman) and uncle (David Koechner) that talks almost exclusively of guns and sports, a trio of rotten cousins, a pushy great aunt (Conchata Ferrell), selfish teenaged sister, and overly stressed parents (Toni Collette and Adam Scott) all make a recipe for one strained family dynamic. It’s only Max’s grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) that provides a soothing calm amidst the chaos. Overwhelmed after a nasty bout of bullying courtesy of the cousins, Max rips up his letter to Santa Claus and tosses it into the wind.  It’s the Anti-Claus, Krampus, who’s received Max’s message loud and clear, Max just doesn’t know it.

With a talented cast known for comedy, the initial act plays out like your typical holiday comedy of errors.  The slow motion montage of Black Friday shopping doom sets the tone, and the time spent with Max’s family proves just how little Christmas means in the present.  It’s clear everyone is just going through the motions, and familial bonding is lacking.  Save for Omi, who tries and fails to keep the spirit alive in Max.

By the end of the first act, Krampus begins his descent upon the family.  It begins with a blizzard that blankets the entire neighborhood.  The power goes out and the temperature drops to sub-zero.  He lays siege to Max’s family in waves, first with isolation, then sending in various hellish minions to terrorize the family, all building up to his arrival.  Krampus’ onslaught on Max’s family is not only a stunning spectacle to behold, but it’s a downright blast.

Taking a page from classic holiday films, especially ones that utilize fear as a means to invoke the Christmas spirit, Krampus hits all of the elements of your requisite holiday viewing.  Not even the Anti-Claus himself is original; the anthropomorphic Anti-Claus comes from Alpine folklore dating back centuries. Michael Dougherty’s presentation, along with his twisted sense of humor, is what sets this apart.  His creature designs are fantastic, from the disturbing holiday toys to the nightmare inducing elves.  Krampus himself is instantly iconic; his reveal will make you do anything to stay off of his naughty list.

Dougherty brilliantly toes the line of giving you just enough of the creatures without overstaying their welcome.  In fact, you’ll want more.  Even the violent Gingerbread Men, obvious CGI, entertain with Dougherty’s piercing humor. Carrying over from 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat is Dougherty’s use of blue and orange color palettes, and it’s just as beautiful here.  It’s not just the visuals that will overwhelm your senses, but Douglas Pipes’ amazingly creepy holiday score.

Those looking for jump scares will be disappointed.  As will those hoping to see a lot of blood and gore. Krampus is a Christmas movie, one that will remind you what the holidays are supposed to be about.  It’s also a very dark fairy tale, in the vein of the Grimms brothers, and serves as a warning.  The characters in the film function as a reflection on society today, and Krampus does not punish them lightly. No one is safe from his unrelenting terror, especially the children.

Dougherty proves king of holiday films with this instant alt-holiday classic.  Though a little slow to delve into the horror aspect, it becomes a thrilling fun ride that builds into one wild rumpus.  This is one to share with the family, the type of glorious, big budget horror that provides an excellent gateway to the genre.  It boasts mainstream appeal; the holiday charm, the warped humor, and horrific visuals to bring everyone together this season.  Though, perhaps leave the really young ones at home; Krampus and his minions are terrifying.  You’ll want to see this in the theater, then go home and build your own demented gingerbread army.  I suggest you see it immediately, before I unleash Krampus upon you.

Krampus is out in theaters now.krampus