“Violent Night” is directed by Tommy Wirkola (What Happened to Monday, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) and stars David Harbour (Black Widow, Hellboy), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, The Menu), Alex Hassell (The Boys, Cowboy Bebop), Alexis Louder (Copshop, The Tomorrow War), Edi Patterson (Plan B, Vice Principals), Cam Gigandet (The O.C., Reckless), Leah Brady (The Umbrella Academy, Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls), and Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation, American History X). This film is set during Christmastime, and when a family gets together at a large house to celebrate the holiday, a group of mercenaries attempt to infiltrate the property. With the family in trouble, it is up to Santa Claus to save this family from harm by stopping the infiltrators in their tracks.
Ah… The holidays… The most wonderful time of the year. Full of joy, happiness, and all the pretty things. Plus, you know, materialism. It is the that time of the year to beat up some bad guys!!! In this season where everyone is inevitably going to be rewatching a bunch of comforting holiday classics like “Elf” or “The Polar Express,” “Violent Night” presents itself as an antithesis to the familiar “Christmas movie.” Yes, it is Christmastime. Yes, there is Santa Claus. Yes, there are Christmas songs playing in the background. But instead of watching the next “Fred Claus,” there is a chance that with “Violent Night,” I have just tuned into the next “Die Hard.”
For those of you who have seen “Die Hard” and defend it as part of the many Christmas movies out there, you might say that it is not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza. Similarly, I think Christmas came early this year when Santa bashed a bunch of mercenaries and put them in their place. Now am I going to put “Violent Night” on in front of my family while opening Christmas presents? Maybe not. However, once all the unwrapping is done and I find some privacy, I might put it on because this film is beautifully gory and as the name suggests, violent. It knows how to have fun from scene one to the climax.
David Harbour is excellent as Santa Claus, and part of it is because of the script. When I usually think of Santa I usually think of a jolly old man who can do no wrong. This film showcases a Santa who has grown tired of his job, he is sick of delivering the same trendy gifts to children, but he also seems to have a soft spot for the children that stand out on his nice list. Now, if I had one minor complaint, it is that the film occasionally resorts to kids’ animation humor where Santa calls out one of his reindeer for taking a dump on a roof, but that would be a small script flaw in an otherwise entertaining flick. Harbour carries this film as Santa Claus and I would not mind seeing more of him as the character.
Although speaking of the script, it is not the most verisimilitude-filled story of the year. Although to be fair, when you have a Santa Claus that beats up bad guys Deadpool style, that does not exactly call for the most realistic story of all time. In fact, there are certain conveniences and happenings in the movie that occur and the excuse that gets brought up in those moments is that it is “Christmas magic.” As someone who has seen and reviewed a ton of movies, it has become notoriously difficult to “turn off my brain.” But sometimes, the best thing to do in a movie like this is to follow this saying uttered by Barbara from “Tenet,” specifically… “Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”
And I can tell you how I felt after watching this movie. In a word, incredible.
I also like the scenes when the family happen to all be together. For the record, this movie takes place in an extravagant household and the people inside are all wealthy or notable. A couple standouts include Alex Hassell as Jason Lightstone, the favorite son. Gertrude Lightstone, who leads the family corporation. Also, Alexander Elliot as Bert, a young man who will do anything to get attention on social media. For the most part, the main group sounds like a bunch of entitled people. And in some ways, that is as accurate of a description as I could give them. But much like “The Menu,” which I reviewed last month, it was difficult for me to find any of these privileged individuals annoying or obnoxious. Credit where credit is due.
Although when it comes to the mercenaries, they are equally as entertaining. Most notably, John Leguizamo as “Scrooge.” (center) While I think there are more memorable antagonists in other movies, few have made me go through such an immediate transition to make me literally despise them (in a good way) like the one in this flick did. There is a moment where the stakes transition from the fates of one household to every kid on earth, and it is because of this guy. Leguizamo sells the part like hotcakes and I certainly bought it.
Before going into “Violent Night,” I heard this movie is similar to “Die Hard” and “Home Alone” and in some ways, that is an accurate description of what this film is in essence. There are unused elements brought to the table. For instance a deadly Santa Claus, and the idea of Christmas itself being saved, but if you like “Home Alone” and “Die Hard,” there is a good chance you might enjoy “Violent Night.” This is likely a coincidence, and also not the most cinematic example, but I would say there is a pinch of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” sprinkled here too because the bad guys all have code names that are Christmassy.
As I have said, this film is violent, brutal, and not the most happy go lucky depiction of the holidays. It is cute, but not cuddly. But one thing this film gets right is that it does not simply resort to being a full-fledged slaughterhouse of a time and instead balances its brutality with some earned heart. Santa Claus and Trudy’s connection powers the film into the night sky and blasts it away full throttle. Seeing a somewhat broken Santa enjoy a conversation with a girl who evidently fulfills many qualifications on the nice list is heartwarming. “Violent Night” does for Christmas movies what “The Suicide Squad” did for comic book movies. It gave a satisfying journey that perfectly balances rambunctiousness with sweetness. It is not all rainbows and unicorns, but the rainbows and unicorns that do exist are not out of place.
“Violent Night” brings on the true meaning of Christmas. Watching Santa Claus give some old jolly saint nicks, red noses, and 12 days of pain. Watch it if you have a chance.
In the end, “Violent Night” does not sell itself short, it is beautifully naughty but to the point where it feels nice watching it. If you are looking for action, look no further. If you are looking for gore, look no further. You might not be looking for comfort and joy, but you may be delighted to find it here. David Harbour plays a great Santa Claus and I would not mind seeing another movie where he returns to play the character. Whether it means he deals with a different family or group of people like Benoit Blanc in “Knives Out” or we return to see another adventure with him and the Lightstones. I want more of this character, give it to me now. I am going to give “Violent Night” a 7/10.
“Violent Night” is now playing in theatres everywhere, including large formats like Dolby Cinema and Cinemark XD. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have another one coming soon! Tonight I will be seeing “Empire of Light,” directed by Sam Mendes. The film hits select theaters starting tomorrow night so I hope to have a review up by the middle of next week. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Violent Night?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite on-screen Santa Claus? I’ll even count the fake ones like the department store Santa from “A Christmas Story.” List your picks down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!