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Violent Night (A Movie Review)


Starring David Harbour, Leah Brady, John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Beverly D'Angelo, André Eriksen, Brendan Fletcher, Mike Dopud, Mitra Suri, Stephanie Sy, John B. Lowe, Alexander Elliot, Sean Skene, Erik Athavale, Frederick Allen, Vance Halldorson, DJ Brotherson and Finn McCager Higgins.

Screenplay by Pat Casey & Josh Miller.

Directed by Tommy Wirkola.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 112 minutes. Rated R.

For years there has been an odd debate going on about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Of course, it’s not. It’s an action film which takes place during the Christmas season. It is no more of a Christmas film than other types of genre films which revolve around the holiday season like Gremlins, Love Actually, Home Alone or Black Christmas. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Violent Night is also not a Christmas film, even though it does have the advantage of actually having Santa Claus as the main character. However, Violent Night is many things… cynical, offbeat, a bit ridiculous, shockingly violent and often surprisingly funny… but it is not a Christmas movie.

In fact, no matter how much your little kids beg you, don’t let them watch this movie unless they have a really strong stomach. Anyone who believes in Santa is going to have some nightmares after sitting through Violent Night.

However, Violent Night is not for kids, and it does not pretend to be. It’s a somewhat satirical and very dark deconstruction of the Santa Claus legend. The film is an odd mix of Die Hard, The Ref and Silent Night Deadly Night, a genre mashup action horror comedy with some rather clever pokes at one of the most well-known stories in the world. It doesn’t always work, but it comes a whole lot closer than you may expect.

And if the story does occasionally slow down to wax rhapsodically on the magic of Christmas and the utter belief of a child and the importance of being nice vs. being naughty, I think the filmmakers are mostly just goofing on us.

Which is, again, okay. No one going to see a movie called Violent Night is really likely to be looking for a serious look at the holiday. It’s more like the new trend for taking beloved children’s characters and thrusting them into tongue-in-cheek, gore-filled horror situations – see also the upcoming Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey and The Banana Splits Movie. In fairness, Violent Night is much better than Banana Splits.

We meet Santa (played by David Harbour of Stranger Things) on Christmas night, looking bedraggled and drinking heavily at a bar. This Santa is seriously burnt out on the whole “crossing the world to spread joy to all of the little girls and boys” routine that he has been espousing for centuries. He had a fight with Mrs. Claus. He’s angry, dirty, drunk, and cursing up a blue streak. Of course no one believes he is the real Santa Claus. To a certain extent, I’m not sure even he does.

His Christmas spirit is revived by – of all things – stumbling on a home invasion in which a horrible rich family is being robbed. Most of them would be squarely on the naughty list, but there is one little girl named Trudy (Leah Brady) who is not only on the nice list, but a true believer that Santa will protect her family.

When the reindeer are frightened off by submachine gun fire, Santa is abandoned at the mansion, and decides to take on the bad guys and save the little girl.

However, the story doesn’t really even matter. It’s just an excuse for nearly two-hours of Christmas jokes, murders using holiday trappings like candy canes and icicles, and some truly horrific violence. Seriously, in my view the violence, no matter how cartoonishly it was presented, went a bit too far, but from the reactions of the others in the theater with me, I was in the minority on that.

For me, the best part of Violent Night was Harbour’s downbeat performance as a not-so-jolly Saint Nick and a bunch of surprisingly clever gags based on the holiday. Violent Night was cheesy and ridiculous and way too bloody, but it was also undeniably often a whole lot of fun.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: December 1, 2022.

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