‘Violent Night’- Film Review: David Harbour as Santa Will Kick Your Ass

While there have been a few of them in theaters lately, Christmas movies are always the best to watch when you want to see characters. However, it’s not uncommon to have alternatives that replace wondrous feelings with action and blood, which is a total juxtaposition. You can look at quintessential favorites from Die Hard or mistakes like Reindeer Games, which are people’s go-to’s that drive them to be fun. Violent Night might be a new classic for those who’ve always wanted to see a movie about Santa Claus destroying criminals while having a redeeming arc to come full circle for us all.

It’s another Christmas Eve season for good ol’ Santa Claus (David Harbour), who’s getting tired of doing his job year after year. No one believes him anymore, and it has become too commercial when all kids want is cash in their stockings and video games. For me, this might be his last Christmas. He spends most of his evenings drinking when he’s not making the rounds of delivering gifts to children worldwide. When his luck couldn’t get any worse, Santa’s long break at the Lightstone family’s wealthy mansion in Connecticut, visited by Trudy (Leah Brady) and her estranged parents Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder), caused the dysfunctional celebration to a halt when a group of mercenaries, led by a man who calls himself Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo), kills and staff and takes the hostage. Their mission? To steal $300 million from an unbreakable vault. The only thing they didn’t count on was having the real Santa inside the house and attempting to save the night for everybody on his good list.

If someone pitched me the idea of a Christmas movie that would be the combination of Bad Santa and Die Hard by the man who directed the terrible Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (Tommy Wirkola), I would have little interest. But when it involves Harbour as a John McClane-type Santa, all strong and blooded, that was the selling point. Violent Night might be a one-note joke type of B-Movie to experience during the holidays, and while it won’t work with a lot of audience members, it did for me as expected in what could’ve fit perfectly with the ’90s. 

Anyone who needs a fixture for a good action movie set around the wonderful time of the season will get a kick while finding some time to sprinkle moments of kindness in between the violence that genuinely surprised me. There’s this unexpected heart that comes when you have a child like Trudy who still believes in the jolly man and that’s enough to save her and her family from getting killed. This goes for a tone that only sometimes aims correctly throughout, where it wants to be the hardcore action thriller and holiday fun that can be a miss from a dialogue standpoint. 

Easily, the best part comes in the form of David Harbour, since you honestly can’t think of anyone else to play the part of Santa. Finally, he’s given a leading action role that doesn’t waste his talents on-screen (Offensive take, Hellboy). This is another performance of his that’ll be remembered for years to come when he’s clearly having a ball with not taking the material this seriously. It’s a different take of Santa to ease into from movies or specials, especially one that I shouldn’t be afraid of. Remember Silent Night, Deadly Night? He can take severe injuries and not be an invincible human. But, above the drinking, as seen in the first scene, and occasional swearing, there’s still this charming side of Santa that made us want to save the day and live to see another yearly trip to deliver presents, believing in Christmas once more. We even get a bit of backstory about him I wanted to see more of in the lore. 

And the relationship between him and the earnest Truly, played with cuteness by Brady, gives the movie its sweeter moments when both need this sense of optimism to get through the night. Leguizamo wasn’t too bad as the villain, with a backstory as to why he became a huge grump. Everybody else, from Beverly D’Angelo as the family matriarch to Alex Hassell, turned out to be mildly forgettable, to say the least, and didn’t exactly care about them because they’re unlikable rich people. 

But if you come for the R-rated action, it’ll leave you 100% satisfied. Since David Leitch and his 87North Production company are also behind this, the best idea is to leave the kids at home since it delivers on Santa slaying down bad guys on his naughty list in inventive ways, especially anything Christmas-related decorations. They’re nowhere near as perfect as John Wick, but it never gets old as it grows more amusing and it still got me to have the most appropriate reactions while laughing and in the theater in how cool and gory they were. There’s nothing more exciting than a deadly homage to Home Alone or an entire sequence of Santa wielding a sledgehammer set to Bryan Adams’ “Christmas Time.” So you can say it was indeed a “violent night.”

Since it can be a blatant tribute to Die Hard with more edge, the screenplay from Pat Casey and Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog) doesn’t have any surprises besides the deaths. And when there isn’t any action going on, the downtime could’ve shortened by ten minutes without spending time on the family and the campy dialogue part. But because of the pros, I can forgive it for its generic narrative. 

Violent Night might contravene in tone, but it might be a new holiday guilty pleasure for me. This was more fun than I anticipated. David Harbour owns his performance as Santa Claus in an action flick filled with sentimental joy and bloody violence to keep you entertained. I wasn’t expecting this to be the most fantastic Christmas movie ever, but it delivered what the trailer and premise promised. Indeed, this was dumb enough to turn part of my brain off. But, much like the recent release of Spirited, it caters to those wanting something different for a change.

Grade: [B]

Violent Night is now playing in theaters| Runtime: 112 Minutes| Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references| Studio: Universal Pictures.

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