(Written by Allison Brown)
While I will admit it is not exactly my preferred choice of genre, Violent Night will give its audience all it is hoping for and more. The choice of weapons is creative, ranging from a chiseled-by-mouth candy cane to a baby Jesus from a nativity scene to an icicle to the star at the top of the tree. Christmas puns are at the ready, and I will admit I chuckled quite a few times here or there. Those who will forever debate whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not (it isn’t) will find their niche in their time spent with this film. Cross the aforementioned classic with a self-aware Home Alone, Bad Santa, and throw in some notes of the slasher genre, as well as Thor, and one has Violent Night. Overall a bit of a mish-mosh of everything, but it somehow all comes together well for the most part.
We start the film in Bristol, England, where two men dressed as Santa converse at a bar. The spirted men discuss why they still do the job, and the drunker one (David Harbour) feels more conflicted than his adversary. He declares, “this planet runs on greed,” and that kids are “junkies” who only “want, crave, [and] consume.” He’s not wrong! Once he delves into topics that only the real Santa would reflect on, presents a gift to the bartender, and omnisciently mentions a family member’s name, it becomes clear he is someone more, and he abruptly takes off.
Greenwich, Connecticut is Santa’s next and final stop, where most of the story takes place. Like many of its predecessors this year, we are presented with a cast of unlikeable, wicked characters. Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder) are recently separated and have an endearingly pure daughter, Gertrude, or Trudy (Leah Brady), as she likes to be called. Jason and Linda are very one-dimensional, and feel as if they solely exist to give their little girl a purpose to drive the plot. All Trudy wants for Christmas this year is for her parents to get back together, which she tells Santa on a gifted walkie talkie. The three are the only civilized people in the film. The unit will be spending time over the holiday with Jason’s mother, Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), who is a hateful workaholic matriarch that all fear and consistently suck up to. The other Lightstone family members are somehow worse. Alva (Edi Patterson) and Morgan (Cam Gigandet) are a mismatched pair of shallow soul suckers with a son, Bert/Bertrude (Alexander Elliot), who received his first sexual harassment accusation at a disgustingly young age. Morgan is a brainless actor who only thinks of himself; his Christmas gift to another member of the family is a business proposal. Alva inadvertently calls the very young Trudy a whore and feels no remorse. Money is the sole point of interest for everyone, aside from Linda and her daughter.
The miserable party is crashed by a team of holiday-nicknamed criminals, led by an especially despicable Christmas-hating Scrooge (John Leguizamo) who begins his crime spree by proclaiming “bah humbug, motherfucker!” I am not a fan of Leguizamo, and I swear he always plays the most unpleasant person in every film. The other criminal names range from Peppermint to Tinsel to Krampus—perfectly on brand.
This level of toxicity in our leads left me wondering at many points why we care about their wellbeing. There were multiple characters whose demise I was rooting for, but they somehow survive the runtime unscathed. Even Santa is pretty awful, which is obviously not a new concept, but it doesn’t feel witty here. He despises skim milk kindly left for him by a celebrating family, and raids their liquor cabinet while already messily wasted. The always-lovable David Harbour takes a long time to gain audience sympathy within this role. Thankfully, he becomes redeemable by the end, but I just really did not expect to dislike him so much. I know it is intended as satire, but Director Tommy Wirkola glazes over the inexcusable decision for Santa Claus to drive his sleigh drunk. The message comes off less funny, and more implying drunk driving isn’t so bad if one is good in other ways.
Violent Night‘s lifeblood is in the relationship between Trudy and Santa Claus. Despite barely being in the same room the entire film, they have the best chemistry. There is some charming world building as well; my favorite is a magical scroll that reveals whether someone is naughty or nice and why.
Not to be sexist, but this is a man’s action movie through and through. A flashback scene to Santa’s past reinforces this intention. There is beer guzzling, drunk urination (over the sleigh), vomit (also over the sleigh), lots of gore, machine guns, and a fair number of explosions. It is gross-out comedy at its peak; the jokes feel quite juvenile at times. The worst image in my mind came from Gertrude screaming at someone over the phone, “don’t shit in my mouth, and tell me it’s chocolate cake.” This is personally my least favorite type of comedic strategy. It takes some time for the jokes to land. The script digs into the cheese factor of all things holiday; sometimes it works and at others, it is less successful. Nevertheless, I think most paying viewers will very much enjoy Violent Night, as it is a solid effort for the action genre.
Santa Claus is coming to town when Violent Night drops in theatres on December 2.