Violent Night a Blood-Splattered Yuletide Act of Resistance
It’s Christmas Eve, and a not-so-jolly Santa Claus (David Harbour) is making his yearly trek around the globe, delivering presents to all the “nice” children everywhere. He’s weary, and it’s clear this magical being’s Christmas spirit is on the decline. People have apparently forgotten what the holiday is all about, and they most likely wouldn’t even notice if he just silently went into retirement. After all, 1,100 years of doing the same thing would get a little tiresome for anyone, even Santa Claus.
But things change when he lands on the roof of the Lightstone mansion. After enjoying homemade cookies baked with love and care by young Trudy (Leah Brady), the sound of gunfire savagely breaks up the quiet.
Santa’s normally not one to get involved in what humans do to one another, but the sight of the little girl, her estranged parents Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder), and the rest of the Lightstone family being held at gunpoint is too much for him to bear. All of these villains are on his naughty list, and for one night and one night only, instead of a lump of coal, he’s going to give them a brutal beating they won’t soon forget.
From the deranged minds of renegade Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) and screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog) comes the 1980s-style, aggressively combative action throwback Violent Night. More than just that Santa-versus-terrorist faux trailer from Scrooged brought to life, this gorily vulgar live-action cartoon is an explosion of bloody madness that follows the Die Hard template with pinpoint precision.
That it all works has a great deal to do with two things. This first is Harbour. He’s delightful. The actor brings this world-weary Santa to life with gleefully anarchic ease, giving him unexpected gravitas in the process. The other is John Leguizamo. He’s the secretive, Christmas-hating villain channeling his inner Hans Gruber meets Howard Payne. Calling himself “Scrooge” and willing to shoot everyone and anyone point-blank to get the $ 300 million hidden in the Lightstone vault, Leguizamo goes all in as the over-the-top bad guy, and it’s obvious he’s having the time of his life.
Several little touches brought an immediate smile to my face: Beverly D’Angelo as the Lightstones’ cold-hearted matriarch Gertrude. The purposefully Michael Kamen–inspired, Die Hard-esque score by composer Dominic Lewis (Bullet Train). A cavalcade of henchmen given yuletide nicknames like “Sugarplum,” “Krampus,” “Frosty,” and “Candy Cane,” almost all of whom are portrayed by talented stunt performers who help make the many action scenes sizzle. Deft blink-and-you’ll-miss-them homages to past Christmas-set actioners like Die Hard II, Lethal Weapon, and even Cobra.
The film loses track of some of its characters at times, a few of Scrooge’s crew all but disappearing entirely during the last act. Additionally, Wirkola still isn’t the best at juggling action and comedy; he’s so eager to get to his next bloody act of shock and awe that he sometimes doesn’t allow a joke the time it needs to fully land. The breakneck pace is somewhat exhausting, making the few moments where the filmmaker actually allows things to slow down and breathe come close to feeling like a mistake.
Not that it honestly matters. Violent Night does exactly what it sets out to do, and does so with panache, frivolity, and style. It’s a blood-splattered act of resistance, and not since Billy Chapman went on his Silent Night, Deadly Night rampage has a Santa Claus crushed so many skulls as he removes names from his extensive “naughty” list.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)