“It’s funny because it’s true”– a typical element of great comedies and comics is that they can tell and depict the raw sad truth in ways most other mediums cannot. Krampus is by no means a comedy (although I did find myself laughing from time to time throughout the movie). Instead, it’s a Christmas horror movie and it gives us a truth that couldn’t be effectively said otherwise.
The spirit of Christmas has died for the Engle family, that is, except for a tiny glimmer of genuine goodness, love, positivity, belief, and hope found in their son Max. The dread and almost horror the family shares for Christmas is apparent long before Krampus comes along. None of the family members seem to get along. They are all selfish and self-righteous. The family hosts are quite liberal and brainy while the cousins are all brawn and seem to celebrate both ignorance and excessiveness. All of them clash. The combination just doesn’t work.
Max misses how things used to be. He misses when everyone got along and the holiday was more about the fun of togetherness than everybody’s wants and semi self righteous ideals. After being tormented by his cousins for his Santa Claus letter, which pegs each family member’s problem that he wishes to be fixed, he rips it up and wishes his family would just go away.
Slowly but surely, in creeps the terrifying and gory Krampus, the Anti Claus of Christmas. So where does the deep truth come in? It comes in through German-speaking Grandma Omi, who knows what’s going on when family members start disappearing and horrifying Christmas-themed creatures start showing up. She explains that her family was taken in Germany on Christmas by Krampus long, long, ago and that “He left me as a reminder of what happens when hope is lost, when belief is forgotten, and when the Christmas spirit dies.” As the Plugged In movie review puts it: “The true meaning of Christmas, she says, is to focus on others’ needs, not our own selfish desires.”
The horrific death and gore brought on by a mythic pagan deity from the times of the germanic tribes isn’t likely to happen. There is, however, a good chance that many families do have a miserable Christmas. This won’t be due to not having enough to eat, or gifts — it seems sadly that those are quite plenty in most families. The problem instead will come from the excessiveness of gifts, food, and personal entertainment, ideals, and desires, that can’t be put aside in order for the family to enjoy each other. No one in this situation is aware of the other. Families become shattered, disconnected, frustrated, and alone although they are all together in the same house.
The conditions that brought about Krampus in the film, are quite real. Although he is not, there is still something quite horrific about the common condition of present day Christmas. My only hope is that we can all put ourselves aside and just have a wonderful day with our families.