Krampus opens with a sequence that promises a much more biting satire than what follows, but that doesn't make it any less amusing: As soothing Christmas music plays, hordes of ravenous consumers battle each other for bargains in a huge mall, with slow-motion confrontations that turn increasingly violent. It's a blunt but entertaining critique on the rampant capitalist free-for-all that Christmas has become. After that opening sequence, though, Krampus doesn't really have anything to do with consumerism or the commercialization of Christmas, and its early plot-establishing stretch is a little slow, as various family members gather at the home of Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) and their two kids for a Christmas full of strained familial relations.
But once the horror plot kicks into gear, the movie turns out to be tons of fun. While the clash between the bourgeois Tom and Sarah and Sarah's redneck sister Beth (Allison Tolman) and her husband Howard (David Koechner) makes for some cliched comedy, director and co-writer Michael Dougherty switches things up by having the adults band together, their differences making them stronger rather than turning them against each other. Dougherty creates a real sense of eerie dread in the deserted, snow-covered suburban neighborhood, and the grotesque Christmas-themed creatures that torment the family are inventively nasty.
Krampus himself arrives because Tom and Sarah's son denounces Christmas, and with the early theme of family squabbling, it seems like the movie is heading toward a sort of happy ending about holiday harmony after all the carnage. But as the characters (including innocent children) keep getting picked off one by one, that becomes less and less likely. Dougherty opts for a sadistic ending that mitigates the violence but still leaves his characters in eternal torment. Even so, the movie remains playful in its nastiness, turning the longing for family togetherness into something resembling Jean-Paul Sartre's vision of hell. That's quite a Christmas miracle.