Violent Night Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
When a disillusioned Santa Clause is accidentally caught in the middle of an abduction, he needs to dish out some season beatings to save a little girl.
Genre: Action / Christmas / Comedy
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: David Harbour, Leah Brady, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Beverly D’Angelo, Brendan Fletcher, Edi Patterson, & Cam Gigandet.
Run Time: 112 min.
US Release: 02 December 2022
UK Release: 02 February 2022
German Release: 01 December 2022
Well, this is a holiday flick on a completely different level! I saw the trailer for Wirkola’s newest premise while catching a screening of Smile and immediately wanted to see it! David Harbour looked pretty realistic as Santa, while the action seemed bloody enough for an R rating. I circled the release date on my calendar, waiting patiently. On Friday I finally had the chance to watch it in a nearly empty cinema. Leaving the showing, I need to confess that I had wished for more, though what I obtained was a good guilty pleasure. So grab some candy sticks, cuddle up in a blanket and get ready to read my review for Violent Night
When a group of elite mercenaries attacks a wealthy estate on Christmas Eve, taking a little girl with her family hostage, the team is flabbergast by an unexpected combatant: Santa Claus is on the grounds, stepping in to save the days, showing why this good ol’ Nick ain’t no saint!
You need to give a film props when it knows exactly what it is! Wirkola’s darkly comedic, violent Christmas tale does know what it is, without trying to be more; an over-the-top action fest, with silly festive puns. The story doesn’t have much substance, other than to entertain an adult audience and while it takes a while until the fighting starts, boy does it pay off once shit hits the fan! While the savagery is maxed out to the limits of a 16+/15 age rating in most countries, it obtained an R rating in the US for its obscenities. This is an absolute guilty pleasure, referencing movies like Die Hard or Home Alone, which it tries to pay tribute to.
That said, it does come with its fair share of problems! For one, the pacing is completely off. We spend much of the first act, following a disillusioned Santa, who is getting drunk on his trip around the world, leaving presents for children that still believe in him. While the jolly old man makes a fair point that humanity is getting worse every year, with children becoming more greedy plus disconnected, that subject is never truly explored. The other half of the screen time follows the dysfunctional, rich Lightstone family, who are boringly one-dimensional, except for Trudy.
The pacing picks up once the mercenary arrives, taking everyone hostage, with Santa getting accidentally in the midst of it. That said, the exaggerated killing spree of Father Christmas is constantly interrupted by cutting back to the family, where the baddies are trying to gain access to some money. The comedy is hit and miss, while the kills are mostly played as humorous, even if not always creative. The few short back flashes towards Nick’s past were also unnecessary, since they did not build up to anything.
The dialogues are written as one giant holiday pun, using a lot of cheesy one-liners that don’t stick the landing. One does laugh but only because they are bad! That said, there are a few emotional exchanges between Trudy and Kris Kringle that, while heartwarming, are very superficial.
Most characters aren’t properly introduced, leaving much speculation about their motivations. The complete Lightstone family is repugnant, filled with clichéd characters such as; the teenage influencer as a grand-son, the alcoholic daughter to a business tyrant, or the cowardly son, who doesn’t know how to get out under his dominating mother’s thumb. The same can be said about the mercenaries, who are simple cannon fodder for Santa to punch himself through.
David Harbour is perfectly cast as Santa Clause. He not only looks the part, his disillusioned demeanour about the decline of society, while people become more greedy, sends him spiralling down a path of depression and anger, which one can empathise with. Harbour really sells those moments of depression, as well as surprisingly being believable as a vicious Kris Kringle. That said, I do wish the narrative would have focused more on him.
Leah Brady plays Trudy Lightstone, giving a really sweet performance of this innocent six-year-old child. Granted, her character feels like a heavily constructed plot device, to give Saint Nick a reason to stay and help out the family, as well as give him hope again, sparking up his fiery spirit. Nevertheless, she does give this flick a cuteness factor.
John Leguizamo as the mercenary leader, codenamed Scrooge, is exaggeratedly funny but still a disappointment. He is a cartoonish villain, who wants to destroy Christmas for everyone, simply because he is bad. There is no explanation as to why he attacks the Lightstone’s estate, nor how he obtained the information that he has about them. He is simply a paper-thin villain.
Camera-wise, Violent Night, isn’t all too bad. The lighting is kept quite dark, especially during violent scenes, to masquerade the amount of blood flow. It does fit to the overall atmosphere, though, with Santa visiting at night, to leave some presents. The fight choreography is quite good, unfortunately, some scenes are heavily cut mid-brawl, possibly to stay under an 18+ certification. The picture is crystal clear, with the colour palette giving a general warm Christmassy feeling.
Visual effects are sparse, yet look really well done. To my surprise, it was the practical sets, as well as the handmade effects, which were wonky at times, with explosions looking shockingly bad, or parts of the house feeling like empty, cold sets. On the other hand, the room where the hostages are being held looks very festive. The make-up design for injuries also feels realistic, with a lot of blood flowing.
Verdict: I’ll be the first to admit, that I am not the biggest fan of Tommy Wirkola’s movies. Dead Snow and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, were absolute trash, yet this one I would rate along the likes of Day Shift. The plot has a hard time kicking off, but it gets really entertaining once the bloody fist-battling begins. The cutbacks to the hostages do disturb the flow, plus the cheesy one-liners are totally cringe-worthy. Apart from David Harbour and Lea Brady, everyone else depicts a shallow, clichéd personality. This includes John Leguizamo, who even if fun over-the-top, has no depth to him. The visual effects are solid, however, some of the practical sets do look shockingly empty. Don’t get me wrong, I had an absolute blast with this movie; I am even thinking about getting it for my blu-ray collection. It is more of a guilty pleasure, however, as objectively speaking it is a mediocre product. I will give Violent Night a 5.0 out of 10.