Audiences better watch out. Violent Night delivers on an inherently simple, but effective premise. What if Santa Claus went to town on some bad guys? What if instead of arguing Die Hard as a Christmas movie, we started arguing about a Christmas movie as a Die Hard? As far as action holiday movies go, Violent Night lands some serious blows not just comedically, but with some genuine “true meaning of Christmas” warmth as well.
Directed by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), Violent Night stars David Harbour as the Coca Cola red-suited Santa Claus himself, well past his prime and now bemoaning the entire enterprise of his millennia-long existence as a gift-bearing Saint Nick. Well, maybe’s not such a Saint. He’s gotten a bit lazier, more melancholic, and he’s essentially on a bender during a particularly ho-hum Christmas Eve.
That is until Santa drunkenly stumbles upon a hostage situation in a remote mansion, where an elite family has been corralled by a group of mercenaries bent on stealing their fortune, led by a delightfully unhinged John Leguizamo. Let’s just say his character, who calls himself “Scrooge,” isn’t exactly on the nice list. What he and his goons don’t count on, of course, is a magical, tough-to-kill Santa roaming the grounds and wreaking havoc with the aid of one of the hostages via Walkie-Talkie (Leah Brady).
Though it’s slow to start — much of the opening family set up is about as perfunctory as these things go — Violent Night finds its groove as a silly action vehicle once Harbour finally delivers his first real lump of coal about a half hour in. What’s more unexpected is how the film often lets itself slow down and take stock of the holiday itself. Namely Santa’s existential crisis and dubious marriage problems. As well as his mysterious origin, which ties into what explains his knack for kicking serious butt.
Essentially, it’s a bit smarter of a film than it really needs to be, which is not a complaint. Where it really works, though, is in its willingness to go full camp. When Harbour hits as hard with puns and winking movie references as he does his hammer and sharpened candy cane. One particular send-up to Home Alone will likely leave my fellow jaded Millennials in proverbial stitches.
There are some loose threads here when it comes to Santa’s backstory that almost reek of franchise bait. And most of the secondary characters wander the film aimlessly trying to fill time before the next bout of actual killing. Thankfully, the stunt work is so impressively done that it’s easy to forgive the film’s naughtiness.
Sure, Violent Night isn’t the definitive Christmas action movie, but it’ll probably stick around as a seasonal favorite for moviegoers aching to see a killer Santa fighting for good instead of evil for once. On paper, it might seem hard to market a movie like this to adults, but Violent Night is ultimately a gift to people of a certain age. Santa’s a hero to many of us growing up, so seeing him be a hero in this extremely violent context is pretty much a Christmas miracle.
Violent Night opens in theaters everywhere starting December 2. Watch the trailer here.
Featured image courtesy Universal Pictures.
VIOLENT NIGHT - 8/10