Krampus seems to give a nod to almost every Christmas movie ever, even name-dropping A Charlie Brown Christmas (a few other delightful references are to Calvin and Hobbes’ “noodle-incident” and Rick and Morty.) Directed by Trick r Treat‘s Michael Dougherty, the film’s depiction of a dysfunctional family is spot-on, and reminiscent of Gremlins, American Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Home Alone. The casting in this film was amazing because by the time things have gone horribly wrong, the audience has really started to care about a group of people who started out rather unlikable.
There has been some question about what exactly happens at the end of Krampus. After being tortured all night by Krampus and his legion of demented Christmas toys, elves, and gingerbread men (not to mention his epic snowstorm,) Max loses his entire family to the underworld and confronts the ancient Austrian demon face-to-face. He’d somehow evoked this punishing spirit much like his grandmother did in her childhood, by giving up not only on the spirit of Christmas and a belief in Santa Clause but on his own family.
Krampus, who’s also known as Santa’s shadow, and wears a Santa mask to cover his true face, offers Max the same thing he offered his grandma Omi when she was a bitter, disbelieving child: a Krampus ornament and a chance to escape his family’s fate. Max refuses this terrible mercy and begs to be reunited with his family. We’re used to narratives where the overarching powers are persuaded by a change of attitude and personal growth, but for Max, it’s too late. His change of heart cannot save anyone. Krampus isn’t a figure of forgiveness, or a benevolent spirit looking for a touching internal transformation, he is a punisher. He laughs in Max’s face after he collected a tear in his giant talon, and sends Max straight into the underworld.
What happens next gives some a reason to hope for Max and his family, but I don’t think there is much reason to think they’ve been redeemed. Max awakens to a perfect Christmas morning, the Christmas morning of his dreams, in fact. The snow outside is a glistening, fluffy blanket straight off a Christmas Card, and his family is even more perfect. Instead of quarreling or stewing, they are enjoying themselves in a tranquil harmony. Max relishes his seemingly reborn family until he opens his gift, which turns out to be a little present from Krampus. Everyone’s faces turn from peace to horror as the camera pans out to reveal that they and their picturesque house are stuck inside a snow globe like the one on the Krampus poster. Their globe is kept in a vast collection of other snow globes (one contains Psycho’s Bates Motel, and there are supposed to be a bevy of other pop culture abodes being closely watched by the ancient figure,) and it looks like they’re not going anywhere for a while.
One interpretation is that Krampus has given them all a second chance to prove themselves as grateful people who love each other, and the globe is merely a window through which Krampus (and Santa, presumably) can watch them, but I think they are literally trapped together for eternity in their perfect Christmas morning. Max got what he wanted in a retributive Twilight Zone twist kind of way.
FYI! You can buy your very own Krampus bell here for $15.
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