“Violent Night” stars David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, and Beverly D’Angelo. Released on December 2, 2022, the film has Santa Claus saving a wealthy family from a group of mercenaries.
The film is directed by Tommy Wirkola, who also directed films such as “Dead Snow”, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”, and “The Trip”. It’s that time of year once again, ladies and gentlemen. The time for us to get into the holiday spirit by watching a ton of Christmas movies and shows and maybe having some eggnog too. While most of us prefer the ones that are harmless and heartwarming, some people usually go for something hardcore and bloody with a touch of Christmas spirit. Luckily, Hollywood has just the movie for them to watch this weekend. This film has my immediate attention for several reasons, mainly the people behind it. You have director Tommy Wirkola, who’s no stranger to combining adult violence and dark comedy, and one of its producers, David Leitch, who still has an impressive track record in the action genre. Additionally, it happens to have screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller, mostly known for writing the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies. With these people on board, it’s no wonder I was ecstatic to see a badass St. Nick in action, even though it has been done in other movies and shows before this one. So, does it bring enough yuletide cheer to kickstart the Christmas season, or does it deserve a lump of coal this year? Let’s find out.
The story follows Santa Claus (Harbour), a rough version of the holiday legend who’s not as jolly as the other Santas. It also centers on the wealthy Lightstone family celebrating Christmas together, including Trudy (Leah Brady), the daughter of Jason (Hassell) and Linda (Louder). Unfortunately, the family’s celebration is cut short when a band of mercenaries invades their estate. Led by Scrooge (Leguizamo), the paramilitary group seeks to steal thousands of dollars in cash from their vault. When Santa visits the Lightstones’ residence to deliver their presents, he gets caught in an unintentional battle for his life. Using his magical tricks, Santa fights to save the family and the spirit of Christmas.
I’ve heard that the film’s concept is a mixture of “Die Hard” and “Home Alone”. However, I describe it as a “what if” scenario, in which Santa watched the “John Wick” movies and decided to use the character’s violent methods to punish people on his naughty list. Since David Leitch was involved in the action franchise, this description makes perfect sense to me. The movie belongs in the category of films that deliver adult-rated takes on beloved fairy tales and legends, including the ones that went under our radar. While I’m usually down with the idea, it can only take these movies so far regarding the execution of their plots. “Violent Night” hopes to be the one that effectively combines popcorn entertainment with crazy adult violence without taking itself seriously because nothing screams “holiday cheer” than watching Santa stab someone in the eye with a Christmas star.
The important thing to know about the story is that it doesn’t set out to be an award-winning action classic. It only exists to do one thing and one thing only: to spread Christmas cheer and adult-rated entertainment. Unsurprisingly, the movie did just that, and it was a splendid early gift to have this year. It does take unoriginal elements from other action films and holiday-related stories, but the way it uses them is enough to inject some fun into its silly concept.
One of the elements I liked about its plot is that it examines people’s greed during the holiday season. With the kids always wanting nothing but cash and video games for Christmas, Santa loses hope and meaning due to the lack of Christmas spirit. He didn’t want anything to do with the holiday because of the greed that affected people’s minds. But all that changes when he gets caught in a dangerous scenario where he has to rescue Trudy, the daughter who wants nothing more than to have her family back together. It’s a somewhat heartfelt reflection on the true spirit of the holiday amid the violence and adult language. I wouldn’t say it’s the best-written story relating to its Christmas-themed messages. However, I can say that the plot is as entertaining as Santa brutally murdering the naughty mercenaries, even though it fails to expand on the idea further.
The last time Wirkola helmed a violent take on a fictional character was “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” almost a decade ago. While that movie has its moments of R-rated violence, it didn’t do much to be anything more than a mindless, forgettable popcorn flick. “Violent Night” has the director taking another shot at the concept, but with the jolly old fat man fighting the bad guys. The result is a fitting improvement over the critically-panned action horror take on the fairy tale. What makes Wirkola’s direction decent is how he mixes the adult-rated crass with the innocence of a family-friendly holiday movie. One minute, you’re watching something heartwarming and full of joy; the next, you see Santa drinking alcohol and brutalizing people with a sledgehammer. Additionally, it’s not afraid to throw in some adult humor, which delivers a good amount of shock and hilarity into the kills and dialogue.
The movie’s cast was also pretty good in their roles, especially David Harbour. When I first saw the trailer for “Violent Night”, I immediately knew that Harbour was a great fit to play the fat bearded man with a bad attitude. He’s got the grit from his other roles, including Jim Hopper from “Stranger Things”, but he’s also got the charisma to go along with it. As I watched the film, I still believed that he was undoubtedly the right guy to fill in Santa’s black boots. Harbour offers a satisfying blend of crass and wholesomeness to make the film’s mature take on St. Nick the one to believe in. John Leguizamo also did all right with his performance as Scrooge, and Alex Hassell was decent as Jason Lightstone. Leah Brady also makes for a solid presence onscreen as Trudy, the girl who communicates with Santa through the radio.
As for the action sequences, I would say they’re about as brutal as you expect from an R-rated action film set during Christmas. They’re violent, a little grotesque, and pretty entertaining. They’re suitably directed without being an eyesore regarding the editing, and they offer some satisfying kills to the people on Santa’s naughty list. You know, because a lump of coal is not enough. There’s also a scene that I can best describe as an R-rated version of “Home Alone”, and it’s honestly one of my favorite sequences of the movie.
Overall, “Violent Night” is an early Christmas gift that packs a bloody punch in its violence, comedy, and holiday cheer. Even though its concept is a tad fundamental regarding its formula, the movie is still a fun and gleefully brutal sleigh ride from start to finish and nothing else. From David Harbour’s portrayal as Santa to the entertaining action sequences, the film will have action fans saying “ho-ho-ho” throughout December or any other month. If you’re in the mood for a Christmas movie that’s more mature and violent than others, this film might be what you need to get into the holiday spirit. Just don’t watch it with the kids who believe in Santa, or else you’ll be on his naughty list.