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Universal // R // December 2, 2022
List Price: Unknown
The holiday genre is a wild one that filmmakers continue to take in countless directions. Christmas comes in the form of joyous comedies for some, but others twist it into a horror flick. Tommy Wirkola's Violent Night seeks to draw on both the humor and the brutality in the holiday, producing a hilarious crowd-pleaser with loads of violence.
Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell) and his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), go to his family mansion for the Christmas holiday along with their daughter, Trudy (Leah Brody). The family might have an abundance of decorations lining their home, but they're severely lacking in holiday spirit. The family fights over the wealth and power of matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D'Angelo), even though she's become jaded with most of them.
A criminal codenamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo) and his crew of goons plan a heist to crash their Christmas celebrating to steal the money inside of Gertrude's vault. Meanwhile, Santa Claus (David Harbour) finds himself stranded at the residence, having no choice but to fight his way through a bunch of gun-wielding enemies with a hatred for all things Christmas.
Violent Night quickly recalls other perverted images of Santa, such as Billy Bob Thornton's turn in Bad Santa. Screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller paint a tired Santa who is fed up with the lack of appreciation from children and his boredom with the increased number of video games he's leaving under the tree each year. Santa goes from one home to the next, indulging in the traditional cookies left for him, but turning in the milk in exchange for hard liquor. What happens when even Santa himself stops believing in Christmas?
Trudy represents the children who still believe in Santa and all that the holiday stands for, even though her family lacks exactly that. But, similar to Violent Night's version of Santa, this young girl has an undeniable edge to her. The dynamic between the two of them splices Die Hard and Home Alone, as they must fight through the night to survive the night.
Casey and Miller's screenplay never takes itself even slightly seriously, putting the pedal to the metal on the comedy. Its undeniable silliness doesn't all work, but it's infectious and leads the audience into the holiday savagery that fills the remainder of the runtime with gory glee.
Wirkola most famously stepped into a genre picture with a tone that isn't too different from Violent Night with Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead. This time, he has the opportunity to play with Santa himself, implementing a wide variety of Christmas-themed gags that play into both the violence and the jokes. No form of decoration goes to waste.
Harbour is the perfect Santa, but he does more than capture the character physically. He explores the mythological and historical background with fine creative decisions, allowing the character to feel like more than a caricature. The film is at its best when it's allowing him to utilize iconic Christmas-themed items as both survival items and deadly weapons. There are some fairly gnarly kills that come as a result.
The family shenanigans don't go nearly as far as Santa's vicious Christmas Eve, begging for a little bit more meat on its bones. But, audiences looking for a gruesome holiday flick with an absorbing take on the legendary figure get exactly that. Violent Night is a jolly good time wrapped in glorious barbarity.