It’s Christmas night and Santa Claus (David Harbour) has had enough of the greed, selfishness, and consumerism of the season.
Downing beers just to work up the courage to face it all, Santa intends for tonight to be his last outing. Meanwhile the extended Lightstone family have gathered for the yearly Christmas tradition of paying tribute to matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo). Among them, favourite son Jason (Alex Hassell) and his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) are putting on a show for the sake of daughter Trudy (Leah Brady).
While eating the cookies Trudy left for him, Santa passes out in a recliner. He is quickly awoken by gunfire and screaming as the Lightstone mansion is assaulted by heavily armed thugs. Using Christmas code names and led by ‘Scrooge‘ (John Leguizamo) they have eyes for the hundreds of millions of dollars in Gertrude‘s vault. Finding himself trapped, Santa must regain his jolly spirit to save the day and Christmas itself.
While Christmas movies made for mature audiences are nothing new, there has been an influx of them in recent years. I was worried Violent Night would be nothing more than a throwaway novelty example of this with a pun title. What got me more excited was director Tommy Wirkola‘s involvement. Wirkola has a penchant for making irreverent violent comical movies such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Added to this is his unlikely pairing with writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller, the duo behind the Sonic the Hedgehog films. With those being a guilty pleasure of mine, I had high hopes to see what they could do here.
David Harbour takes a role which has been played countless times before and manages to do something different with it. While close at times to Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa, Harbour‘s portrayal never comes off as derivative. His Santa is a worn down, alcoholic coward who needs to be reminded of who he used to be.
Assisting him here is Leah Brady who is adorable as the innocent and definitely on the nice list, Trudy. There is an earnestness to their interactions and a surprising amount of heartfelt moments as a result. It is a shame that much of the family drama surrounding Trudy‘s parents and its resolution falls flat.
Violent Night is at its best when it throws all pretence aside and focuses on being a fun gory action comedy. Wirkola struggles connecting Violent Night‘s silly premise with its more serious moments. It’s difficult to find his villains laughable one moment and still a terrifying threat to the Lightstones the next. Leguizamo who has played some of my favourite over the top characters doesn’t help here in a mostly phoned in villain role.
But when Wirkola is allowed to finally let loose, you can see where his passion lies, giving us a Santa who checks baddies off his naughty list in ridiculously violent ways using ornaments as makeshift weapons. Writers Casey and Miller are in their element too, providing Santa eye rolling yet still hilarious festive one liners. This is what people want when they see this type of movie and the filmmakers give it to us with glee.
Beyond this the plot of Violent Night, as well as many of its chief characters, are weakly developed. I was shocked there wasn’t more reference to Die Hard considering the overall shameless plot similarities and status as a Christmas movie. Through Trudy, the film does however embrace its similarities to Home Alone and this is where some of the film’s biggest laughs come from.
Violent Night is a movie which delivers exactly what it promises and little else. A cheesy action story starring a badass Santa. While I believe that the film’s set up could have allowed for more Christmas magic, I was impressed by its ambition. It’s a tall order mixing extreme violence with wholesome movie goodness and somehow this still works more often than it doesn’t.