After seeing the trailer for Violent Night a few months ago, I knew this was the movie I didn’t know I needed, but now I wanted. With the power of matinee pricing, we ventured forth to bear witness. So, is an action movie with Santa as the lead an actual good movie or is it a lazy gimmick to get butts into seats? Let’s find out.
Violent Night stats Stranger Thing’s David Harbour as jolly old Saint Nick…only he’s not so jolly these days. Like us audience members in 2022, life has kind of beaten Santa down. He sees children as consumers, who don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas anymore. An amusing montage in the opening sees Santa seeing Amazon boxes under the tree, wish lists asking for money and, perhaps the biggest offender, sour milk left out for him to sample. Santa is done with this crap and considers hanging up the magic bag once and for all.
Meanwhile, the wealthy Lighthouse family are gathering on Christmas Eve and they’re more or less all the worst. Greedy and inconsiderate, they’re not exactly model citizens. Well, all except for Trudy, the daughter of James and Linda, who despite the wealth and greed of the family at large and her parents’ relationship woes, carries the Christmas Spirit with her. But a group of goons, led by John Leguizamo’s Scrooge (yes, they all have Christmas-themed codenames like Frosty and Peppermint) are out to rob the family vault on Christmas. It just so happens that Santa Claus himself is at their house the moment the heist gets underway. What follows is, well, a violent night.
Despite some bumps along the road, this movie is carried to unexpected heights thanks to a dedicated performance by David Harbour. He completely owns the role, diving into the character and relishing each moment. This Santa does have a potty mouth, is a bit of a drunk and a cynic, but also has that Santa twinkle about him and loves milk and cookies, to the point where he eats said cookies as if he’s a coinasseur. It also has all the bells and whistles you’d come to expect from Santa, from the list, reindeer and even the touching the nose thing before going up the chimney.
Violent Day wears its influences on its sleeve; in that respect, it’s not very original. This is a magic-infused Die Hard at the end of the day, with Santa in the role of Bruce Willis’s John McClane. Both are guys out of their depth on Christmas Eve, in a confined location with thieves out to steal a fortune. Aiding Santa is a voice on a walkie-talkie, guiding and inspiring him to go on, much like how Al helps John. And like John, Santa is out of shape, a drinker and just done with everything. So yeah, Violent Night almost feels like a reimagining of Die Hard. But despite this, Violent Night doesn’t feel too redundant.
But Violent Night isn’t just a quick and easy project. There’s a quality Christmas score here and some sharp cinematography, especially when it comes to the many action sequences. Long takes and tight camera work elevates the material beyond what could have been a quick and easy product. There’s even inventive action here and a hilarious sequence set to a Bryan Adams song. The movie is directed by Tommy Wirkola and is produced by David Leitch, who directed Bullet Train earlier this year, so the action definitely is entertaining and well-executed. The movie is also quite gory, but I found the CGI blood looked more like tomato paste or jam at times. Oh-and it’s worth mentioning but that amazing line from the trailer, “time for some season’s beatings” is NOT in this movie. Sadness.
Keeping it down from being truly awesome are most of the supporting cast, who largely feel like caricatures and one-note. There wasn’t too much depth to them, apart from “bad goon” or “rich jerk”. That’s a bit of a shame, as I didn’t really care about the safety of the family, which in a hostage Christmas movie, is missing the point. Characters can still be out of touch with kindness, compassion and even Christmas, but have some sort of redeeming qualities. The “other” three family members don’t exhibit any of this throughout the movie and I was actively rooting for the thieves to take the money from them. Thankfully, I did buy into Trudy’s belief of Christmas and her wish to see her family reconciled. Her parents were at least far more likeable and believable than the rest of the family members. Not only that but they had far more substance and likeability, despite their problems.
In the end, Violent Night is a funny, unexpectedly entertaining and action-packed Christmas movie that will be familiar to those who’ve seen the likes of Die Hard or Home Alone. Its supporting cast isn’t too strong, but David Harbour as Santa is perfect casting. You can tell he’s having fun with the role and that makes for an even better viewing experience. Will Violent Night become the next holiday classic? Probably not, but it’s still a really fun and worth a watch, I’d say, for it’s outrageous premise alone.
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