Though it’s not a horror movie, action-comedy Violent Night packs in enough Christmas Carnage to earn a spot here in the 12 Days of Christmas marathon. We’ve seen several iterations of Killer Santa’s in the horror genre. Maybe we’ve seen a Christmas action movie featuring a gun-toting Santa. But there’s something refreshingly fun about the premise of ‘Santa Claus’ meets ‘Die Hard‘ that’s rolled up into Violent Night. Critics have been mildly impressed with the results. And so far, the box office has been modestly pleasant.
It’s Christmas Eve and 7-year-old Trudy Lightstone and her mother, Linda, have joined their father, Jason, for the Christmas holidays. every year the Lightstones gather at the family mansion, hosted by the family matriarch, Gertrude Lightstone. But the Lightstones won’t be celebrating alone this year. A team of mercenaries unexpectedly arrive and take the family hostage with visions of $300 million hidden in a vault dancing in their heads. Caught in the middle is Santa Claus himself – and he’s the only who can save the Lightstones.
Violent Night Puts The Bad Guys on the Naughty List
From its opening scene where a drunk Santa Claus stumbles out of a British pub and vomits on a bystander from his sleigh, Violent Night tells you exactly the type of movie to which it aspires. Anyone familiar with Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead won’t be surprised. To some extent, Wirkola actually restrains himself a bit until the third act. Once Bryan Adams’ Christmas Time plays and Wirkola puts a hammer in Santa’s hand, Violent Night fully embraces an over-the-top an approach to the action. And this is R-rated action boasting bone-crunching and blood-spurting in generous portions.
Once Bryan Adams’ Christmas Time plays and Wirkola puts a hammer in Santa’s hand, Violent Night fully embraces an over-the-top an approach to the action.
Where Violent Night hits some bumps is a middle act that’s bloated. Rather than ratcheting up the action steadily, Wirkola takes one too many breaks from the action. Instead of a roller-coast ride, Violent Night unfolds in fits and starts that occasionally frustrate in spite of necessary character work. And screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller craft some nice Christmas sentimentality into these quiet moments. Still it’s not quite enough to justify slowing things down as much as what happens. After all, this is ultimately a movie about Santa Claus going ‘full John Wick‘. Fortunately, there’s an amicable tone to the proceedings that ensures the action-comedy always feels fun.
Violent Night Bolstered by Perfect Casting and a Shining Young Star
No one’s going to complain about the casting here. Today it’s hard to imagine a better choice for a surly Santa Claus than David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy). For Violent Night, Harbour plays his Santa Claus very closely to his portrayal of Jim Hopper. Specifically, his Santa is a slobbish, hard-drinking curmudgeon disillusioned by the word’s fading Christmas spirit. But Harbour’s performance – and Casey and Miller’s screenplay – adds a soft, sentimental core to the character. Allusions to Santa’s past as a viking along with his loving references to Mrs. Claus ensure the character is layered. They also offer interesting directions for a potential sequel.
Today it’s hard to imagine a better choice for a surly Santa Claus than David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy).
Not surprisingly, John Leguizamo’s (Spawn, The Menu) ‘Mr Scrooge’ makes for a fun foil to Santa Claus. Leguizamo may be one of the more underrated performers in Hollywood. He’s a versatile actor and, like Harbour, he’s clearly having a blast with the role. Arguably, Violent Night’s biggest surprise comes from the young Leah Brady. Without Brady’s infectious performance, Violent Night is just violent Christmas action movie. Yet she’s so compelling as a child desperate to believe in Santa Claus that she adds emotional stakes to the story. All the supporting performances are strong with Edi Patterson’s ‘boozy sister’ Alva standing out.
Violent Night Proves to Be a Fun Christmas Alternative
Though it slightly under swings on its potential, Violent Night still makes good on its fun concept. After a fun build-up, Wirkola struggles to pace the middle act, allowing the action to a pause a few times too often. Arguably, the movie would have benefited from trimming some scents. But Wirkola ramps up the carnage for the final act, Violent Night is everything bit as fun as anticipated. Both Harbour and Leguizamo have a blast with their roles. And Leah Brady is an absolute revelation bringing heart to the proceedings. This one certainly merits repeat viewings for successive holiday seasons.