Violent Night knows what it is and the result is a hilarious thrill-ride of Yuletide murder.
Fun fact about me: I absolutely love Christmas. The warm Christmas season feeling is something I look forward to every single year to the point where this year, I was blasting Mariah Carey in my car before Halloween even happened. Here’s another fun fact about me: I absolutely love hard R-rated action films. Something about comical hyper violence gets my adrenaline pumping. No part of me could have possibly ever imagined that those two wildly contradicting passions of mine would combine for the mighty badass and heartfelt movie that Violent Night is, but that’s exactly what happened.
Violent Night centers around a burnt-out Santa Claus, played by David Harbour. We open on Christmas Eve with Santa drinking his sorrows away at a bar, where he pledges that this Christmas will be his last. However, he eventually finds himself trapped in a hostage/heist plot against the Lightstones, a wealthy, Hallmark-esque family lead by the distant and crass matriarch, Gertrude Lightstone, played with hilarious coldness by Beverly D’Angelo. Gertrude’s daughter Alva (Edi Patterson), Alva’s dimwitted actor husband Morgan (Cam Gigandet), and their young douchebag son Bertrude (Alexander Elliot) are a comedically absurd level of entitled nightmare. But Gertrude’s son Jason (Alex Hassell), in true Christmas movie fashion, is just trying to do good for his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder), and most importantly, their daughter Trudy(Leah Brady) whose one Christmas wish this year is to get her parents back together and have a family again.
The Lightstones’ awkward and aggressively passive-aggressive family Christmas is halted when a group of paramilitary robbers, lead by the Christmas-hating “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo), breaks in. (Scrooge supposedly can’t stand the holiday, yet constantly references Christmas things and even named all the henchmen after Christmas stuff.) They kill all the security and hold the Lightstones hostage in an attempt to rob $300 million from a vault. Now it’s up to Santa to save Christmas, which we’ve seen him do before in past films, just usually with less brains being smashed by a sledgehammer.
The earlier debauchery of Santa Claus is semi-entertaining, as we see him binge drinking and peeing off the sleigh as he delivers presents to children all over the world. The premise of “Santa being adult” isn’t new, so in a way it’s a little refreshing that the joke is pretty quickly abandoned once the heist plot kicks in. And while I can certainly acknowledge that this might be intentional, the family drama feels a little familiar. It’s a pretty simple – if not a little comically exaggerated – case of “these rich people lost the Christmas spirit and they need to get it back.” You pretty much know where it’s going, but I would bet that writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller weren’t trying to craft the most revolutionary story.
Casey, Miller, and director Tommy Wirkola were certainly more interested in creating a “let’s kill some people with Christmas themed objects” kind of movie and they succeed. The film uses the stylistic hand-to-hand action of David Leitch (who produces the film), but turns up the goriness to 11. Henchmen are wasted left and right with some hilarious and vile results. Bones are crushed, blood is pouring everywhere, and limbs are being removed constantly, and most of the time with holiday jingles in the background, adding to the absurdity of the situation.
David Harbour is having the time of his life as Santa Claus, combining an alcoholic sloth with an over-the-top dedicated, tattooed warrior. Santa’s not invincible, nor is he a trained assassin or anything. He is given some interesting Viking-like backstory, but the real emotional core with this character is his dedication to the holiday. It’s hinted that he’s having some marital problems with Mrs. Clause and his passion for Christmas is starting to fade away as the world gets increasingly naughtier. That aspect of the character is thoroughly underwritten to a point where it feels almost forced, but Harbour does make the most of it, and he’s clearly having so much fun decapitating goons with ice skates.
Santa’s opponents are all barrels of laughter as well, as all of them range from dead serious to outright psychotic, and some instances of them slowly realizing that their biggest threat is the real Santa Claus are a true delight. The film uses the format of a Christmas movie as well as references to the season in the wildest way. Home Alone-style traps have some shockingly grizzly results. Both Santa and “Mr. Scrooge” use old holiday sayings like “Santa Claus is coming to town” or “seasons beatings” as John McClane-esque one-liners after they take somebody’s life. And it all concludes in a classic Christmas movie finale, which certainly pulls on the heartstrings, even if there are visible human innards nearby.
Violent Night doesn’t always succeed on a deeper level, but this film knows what it is and the result is a hilarious thrill ride full of Yuletide murder. It wears its heart on its sleeve while brains are splattered all across the wall to the sound of festive music, and that’s really what the holidays are all about at the end of the day.
Should be Considered: Best Actor, Best Sound
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Critic and journalist student from Toronto, Canada
Favorite Actor: Brendan Fraser
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