Violent Night - David Harbour
Allen Fraser/Universal Studios
by Steven Warner Featured Film Genre Views

Violent Night — Tommy Wirkola

December 2, 2022

Violent Night isn’t nearly as nuts as it needed to be, regrettably boasting both a confused tone and bloated length.

It’s been a whopping 34 years since 1988’s Christmas comedy Scrooged introduced audiences to the idea of a gun-toting Santa Claus opening a can of whup-ass on an evil group of terrorists. The logline, “Psychos seize Santa’s workshop!”, was matched only by the reveal of the genius punchline of a title, The Night the Reindeer Died. New yuletide action-comedy Violent Night is about as close as we’re probably ever going to get to such grindhouse goodness, although that pathetic pun of a title should clue audiences in to the obviousness on display in nearly every frame, as should the inclusion of director Tommy Wirkola, who mined similar territory with the completely dunderheaded Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. This time out, it’s not the North Pole that is being attacked; indeed, a more accurate descriptor of Violent Night would read Bad Santa meets Die Hard,” as Kris Kringle (David Harbour) is forced to take on a group of sadistic criminals who are holding a wealthy family hostage in their home on Christmas Eve.

But this isn’t some lovable or infallible version of Father Christmas; as the film opens, Jolly Old Saint Nick is getting plastered in a small pub in England, bemoaning how the children of today are self-entitled assholes only interested in material goods, likening them to “junkies,” as they are constantly in need of their next fix. Santa is clearly more than a little jaded, although what do you expect from a guy who has been doing this job for over one thousand years? Watch as Santa vomits on a woman from above, pisses off the side of his sleigh while flying over the White House(!), drops F-bombs, and chastises Prancer for shitting on rooftops. It’s at the arrival of the Lightstone manor that Santa is violently woken from his drunken stupor, as he has arrived in the middle of a home invasion that sees powerful matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) — along with her grown children, Jason (Alex Hassell) and Alva (Edi Patterson) — held at gunpoint by a Christmas-hating baddie named Scrooge (John Leguizamo) who desperately wants the $300 million hidden in a secret vault. Jason’s young daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady), is luckily on the Nice List, making it impossible for St. Nick to turn his back, even as he is out of shape and without reindeer, who fled the scene after some errant bullets.

Violent Night is a one-joke premise stretched painfully thin, with the humor derived solely from the irony of seeing a wholesome figure like Kris Kringle engage in a lot of graphically violent fight scenes, dispatching his victims with various everyday holiday items, while beloved Christmas songs blare on the soundtrack. That the fight scenes are both well-staged and choreographed is to the film’s advantage; that there are so few of them is a tragedy. At 112 minutes, Violent Night is painfully overlong, with a premise that screams for no more than 80 minutes, tops. But screenwriters Patrick Casey and Jim Page insist on giving each character onscreen enough backstory for three movies, resulting in an appalling amount of downtime when all audiences want to see is Santa Claus impaling bad guys with icicles. Perhaps it shouldn’t be much of a surprise coming from the same individuals responsible for gifting the world a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog film that was over two hours in length, yet here we are. The effort is appreciated in theory, but deadly in execution, the movie a series of stops and starts that threatens to lull the viewer into slumberland at any given moment, regardless of the absolutely wackadoo past that Santa is gifted.

Harbour has built something of a cottage industry in playing cynical-but-loveable assholes, and he is completely in his element here, often times even coming across as the version of Hellboy viewers so desperately craved from Harbour in Neil Marshall’s 2019 misfire. He’s certainly committed here, eliciting a genuine emotional response completely unexpected from a film called Violent Night. What action there is lands with appropriate gore, but it’s rendered with such awful CGI that anything resembling realism is D.O.A., which is what this movie desperately needed in order to truly work. An argument could be made the final product is aspiring to nothing more than live-action cartooning, but that notion is betrayed by the solemnity on display in regards to Santa’s emotional and psychological struggles, which feel downright Cassavetes-esque at times. It’s also completely at odds with the Home Alone bullshit that young Trudy is doing in the attic, as if the film really needed to tackle that holiday chestnut as well. In the end, Violent Night just isn’t the in-Santa-ty it desperately needed to be. Hedging one’s bets never looks good on anyone, especially a man who’s so damn dapper in crushed velvet.