Synopsis – When a group of mercenaries attack the estate of a wealthy family, Santa Claus must step in to save the day (and Christmas).
My Take – While the idea of a nasty Santa Claus is nothing new, this latest film from director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), which sees Stranger Things actor David Harbour play the bearded, gift-giving avatar of Christmas, places him inside an exuberantly violent home invasion heist thriller. Where in order to protect a young girl trapped in the house, is forced to slice, stab, and bludgeon his way through a horde of mercenaries on his naughty list to save not only the girl, but also Christmas on a whole.
Acting as a mix between Die Hard (1988), Home Alone (1990) and Bad Santa (2003), the resulting film is a super violent and really funny comedy that despite the setting proving slightly claustrophobic never forgets to bring the necessary heart and festive spirit as a Christmas film.
Written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog) and produced by David Leitch, known for his work on all of the John Wick films, Atomic Blonde (2017), Deadpool 2 (2018), and most recently Bullet Train, the film is basically ridiculousness wrapped up in holiday wrapping paper which pretty much guarantees a good time as it pulls off a combination of over-the-top violence, goofy humor and Hallmark-style meaning-of-Christmas stuff, albeit with creativity and originality.
With so many holiday films out there already and more released every year, it’s difficult for any film to stand out from the crowd, but his one has no problem at all doing so as it expertly embodies a shockingly brutal, savage version of Santa Claus that somehow still delivers lovely messages to create a modern Christmas classic.
The story follows Santa Claus (David Harbour), who is now depressed, boozy and disillusioned after centuries on the job and has lost his appetite for his appointed rounds, only continuing for the sake of it, while vomiting from mid-air. But when he indulges in a break that includes stopping to steal some very expensive brandy while visiting a massive mansion in Connecticut, he is interrupted by gun fire.
Unknown to Santa, he has landed in the household of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo), a mean-spirited ultra-rich matriarch, who has gathered her various family members for Christmas Eve, which includes her son Jason (Alex Hassell), her daughter Alva (Edi Patterson), Alva’s wannabe-action-star boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet), Alva’s influencer son Bert (Alexander Elliot), Jason’s estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and their young daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady).
However, their get together is interrupted by a criminal code-named Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo), who knows Gertrude has $300 million stashed in her basement vault, and has staged a house invasion-slash-hostage situation in order to get his hands on it. Initially just forced to defend himself, Santa finds himself in an increasingly pitched and bloody battle, and enlists Trudy’s help in taking out Scrooge and all his Christmas code-named henchmen to save Christmas.
What follows is a demented mash-up on the lines of the ‘John Wick’ franchise. It’s a wild premise that could have easily been overplayed or under-executed, but director Wirkola manages to maintain a clever, entertaining balance between humor and hard-hitting action throughout its well-paced running time of 112 minutes. From tense action sequences riddling the viewers with anxiety, to heart-felt scenes between Santa and Trudy, then to some excellent comedic relief – and all of it works perfectly.
Additionally, the montage scenes from Santa’s earlier life are captivating. In a savvy move, Santa possesses a few magical advantages, most of which he professes not to fully understand. Deadly weapons used here include your expected firearms, but also a finely-honed candy cane, an icicle, a skating shoe, and a Christmas tree star, among other holiday items. Most prominent is the sledgehammer wielded by Santa, and the flashback to his pre-Santa days for explanation. But he is also far from invulnerable, certainly not enough to prevent his beard from getting bloodied.
The blood and gore makes the sequences adults-only fare this time around, but the humor comes from a similar place as it did with Home Alone – watching villains get their comeuppance in cartoonishly violent fashion. There are also some truly hilarious moments from Santa Claus, as Harbour fully embraces this character and the pure ridiculousness of the situation.
The fact that he evidently enjoys dispatching bad guys with extreme prejudice is partly explained away by the fact that he used to be a Viking warrior back in the 1100s or so, and still has a taste for giving people a good hammering.
Surprisingly, there is a story nestled in amongst the mayhem, and the heart of it revolves around the bond between Santa and young Trudy. She’s a true believer in him and that overrides his uncertainty about the job, and inspires him to stick around for the fight. The film can also be considered a critique of today’s society and the way in which Christmas spirit is no longer treated the way it once was.
On numerous occasions, we see Santa pulling out video game after video game from his sack, along with filling stockings with notes of money, and confiding in the Lightstone family about how today’s society doesn’t believe in the way they once did. Whilst the film does make some interesting and accurate points, it never takes itself too seriously in its critique, which helps fuel the feel-good within the narrative.
Without a doubt, David Harbour makes a particularly good cranky, butt-kicking Santa. Having well proven his knack for juggling action and comedy, and this one is perfect kind of film that plays to his strengths. Between that, he has manages to display an emotional range way beyond what’s expected and delivering some truly heartwarming moments with Leah Brady who brings a boundless optimism to her adorably innocent character. John Leguizamo also makes for a terrific villain and makes every obscenity pop. In supporting roles, Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Cam Gigandet and André Eriksen are effective. On the whole, ‘Violent Night’ is a very enjoyable Christmas action comedy that will have you both squealing and laughing.
Directed – Tommy Wirkola
Rated – R
Run Time – 112 minutes