What if we did a “John Wick” but with Santa Claus? It’s hard not to think this was the line of conversation of how the premise for “Violent Night” came into existence. Somebody pitched a holiday-themed film with enough edgy novelty and self-referential humour to get people through the door, and the board said: “Yes!” (possibly with dollar signs in their eyes).
From “Die Hard” to the “Bad Santa” films, there’s been a surprisingly consistent tradition of Christmas-themed action flicks. Dad’s gotta watch something, we guess? What sets “Violent Night” apart from every other film is the fact that it’s starring David Harbour of “Stranger Things” fame and is being produced by David Leitch, the man behind such hits as “Atomic Blonde”, “Nobody” and the recent “Bullet Train”.
With this season being flooded with Christmas specials and holiday films, can “Violent Night” carve out a place for itself? Or will it be lost in the endless sea of green and red? Let’s find out!
The plot of the film follows a disillusioned, alcoholic Santa Claus swearing that this is the final year of his 1100-year-old job. Simply put, he’s lost his faith in humanity and is fed up with how commercialised the holidays have become and how mindless consumerism has eaten away at the meaning of Christmas. He finds purpose once again though when he slides down a chimney of a mansion owned by the wealthy and corrupt Lightstone family. Turns out that there’s a holiday hostage situation going on when the family is seized by one very angry Mr Scrooge. When Santa sees a sweet, little girl named Trudy caught in the crossfire, he sheds his jolly demeanour and decides that for these naughty criminals, he’s delivering death!
“Violent Night” knows you didn’t come here for its gripping familial drama and poignant Christmas message. No, it does the bare minimum to set the scene before painting it with colourful holiday carnage. The Lightstone family all play painfully cliched stereotypes that we’re meant to point and laugh at as the criminals proceed to give them a rather rude wake-up call. As far as we’re concerned, their only real purpose is to highlight how much of a sweetheart Leah Brady’s Trudy Lightstone is. She’s also the emotional driving force of the film because if she wasn’t around, we sincerely doubt Santa would have stuck his neck out to save any of the other Lightstone family members.
From “Logan” to “The Mandalorian”, it just seems like the only way writers can think of humanising hardened, cynical lone wolves is by sticking them with a kid. Does it work? Yes…well enough. While writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller do try to inject some pathos into some of the characters, it’s mostly buried under an avalanche of cheesy one-liners and chuckle-worthy jokes. It seems like almost every member of the main heist crew has one fun quirk about them, which is a nice touch seeing that so many of these tough, serious-looking goons in action films live to be cannon fodder.
While the film does have a bit of a silly tone, the action is absolutely gory when it calls for it. No surprise here seeing that Leitch is involved in this project. Now, don’t expect to see the tight gun-fu of “John Wick” or the weighty ballet of blades and bullets in “Atomic Blonde”. Most of the kills in “Violent Night” revolve around David Harbour’s Santa pounding fools with a hammer or getting into gritty, ugly scraps with trained mercenaries. And boy are some of these fights glorious to watch, especially one involving Santa sticking a Christmas star into a man’s eye before lighting his head on fire!
It’s not just David Harbour that gets to have all the fun though, there is some truly brutal and innovative “Home Alone” style traps set up by Trudy that will have you whinging. What sets “Violent Night” apart from the other action films this year is one thing: Christmas magic. Do you think we’re kidding? No, “Violent Night” incorporates fantastical elements that seem innocuous on the surface but when weaponised can be used to deadly effect.
Harbour carries the role of Santa Clause quite well (still feels weird saying it out loud). It would have been easy for him to have simply phoned it in by playing up the persona of a thoroughly wasted and disengaged drifter. Instead, his performance oscillates between genuine cynical disappointment with humanity and his desire to rediscover his love for Christmas and the children. It’s hard not to see a spark of Jim Hopper in him here. Leah Brady does an admirable job as Trudy as she effortlessly dances between child-like naivete and steely resolve as she battles alongside Santa to save her family.
John Leguizamo’s Mr Scrooge has a contrived backstory that makes him hate Christmas but honestly, it wasn’t necessary. Especially seeing that it’s played straight, which just makes it even more awkward in light of the film’s ridiculous tone. Leguizamo’s character would have benefited from merely being some, money-hungry thief. Weirdly enough, most of the laughs come from Scrooge’s henchmen played by André Eriksen, Mitra Suri and Brendan Fletcher.
“Violent Night” proves that it has more going for it than a punny name. With a healthy swig of ultra-violence, a sprinkle of black comedy, a pinch of David Harbour and a drop of Christmas cheer, director Tommy Wirkola and company have crafted the perfect B-movie for the festive season. The plot is as thin as wrapping paper and most of the characters are two-dimensional props but none of that matters as long as you come in expecting nothing but mayhem and merriment.
You can now catch “Violent Night” in theatres today!
"Violent Night" Review
"Violent Night" proves that it has more going for it than a punny name. With a healthy swig of ultra-violence, a sprinkle of black comedy, a pinch of David Harbour and a drop of Christmas cheer, director Tommy Wirkola and company have crafted the perfect B-movie for the festive season. The plot is as thin as wrapping paper and most of the characters are two-dimensional props but none of that matters as long as you come in expecting nothing but mayhem and merriment.
"Violent Night" Review