Violent Night Is Shockingly Fun Entertainment

Christmas movies are a dime a dozen; hell there are whole channels, whole
conventions dedicated to them. Christmas is big business. Throw a Santa
hat on something and chances are someone will buy it. It’s easy to look
at a film like Violent Night and cynically imagine a studio pitch about
Santa Claus meets John Wick or Home Alone with actual blood and mayhem.
The Kris Kringle of Violent Night may even agree with you, so cynical,
downtrodden, and ready to give up is he at the film’s start. Modern kids
have pushed him to the brink. Gone are the cherubic angels filled with
awe and gratitude. They’ve been replaced by capitalistic little monsters
asking for cash, never satisfied, always wanting more. It’s a twist on a
trope we’ve seen many times before – a working man loses his Christmas
spirit. While my memory cannot guarantee that that working man has never
been Santa, I can guarantee, however, that that man’s journey back to
belief in Christmas magic has never been so deranged or bloody.

The film’s premise is simple enough. We follow the Lightstones; a rich,
dysfunctional family from top to bottom. Our gateway into this holiday
gathering are estranged couple Jason (Alex Hassell), Linda (Alexis Louder)
and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) – the child whose unwavering belief
in Santa just might save the day. They’re headed to Jason’s mother’s
(Beverly D’Angelo) mansion where they’re joined by his perpetually jealous
and paranoid sister Alva (Edi Patterson), her dumb as rocks, wanna be
action hero, actor husband Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and their truly annoying,
spoiled, forever live streaming son Bert (Alexander Elliot). Before this
family can fully lay into one another they’re besieged by John Leguizamo’s
Mr. Scrooge and his band of festively named henchpeople who have come to
relieve the family of the fortune in their vault. Add a wrong place at
the wrong time Santa into the mix and we’re ready to go.

Violent Night, is quite simply, a film that should not work. It is a
story that commits itself completely to both its carnage and its
sincerity. It’s infused with the DNA of John Wick, Die Hard, Home Alone
and It’s a Wonderful Life with a pinch of the unwavering earnestness of
Elf and somehow survives. This Christmas miracle hinges, mostly, on the
pitch perfect performances of both David Harbour as Santa and Leah Brady
as Trudy. Harbour though beloved for his role as Chief Hopper in Stranger
Things is perhaps woefully underrated as an actor. You will believe this
man is Santa. You will believe he’s had enough. And yes, you will
believe that he will inflict all kinds of horrible violence on these
money-hungry mercenaries before the night is through. He makes every note
– reluctant hero, father Christmas, warrior – ring absolutely true, buoyed
by the unshakable faith, enthusiasm, and encouragement brought to young
Trudy by Brady. Harbour and Brady are also joined by standouts Beverly
D’Angelo enjoying the hell out of her over the top, foul mouthed, f**k
around and find out matriarch role and Alexis Louder whose naturalism
brings truth to every beat and helps ground the film.

This is one of those films where the less said the better. Its shocks,
surprises, and ingenuity are best enjoyed unencumbered by expectation or
spoilers and definitely with as big a crowd as possible. This is the film
you HAVE to see in the theater on opening weekend with your friends
followed by a lengthy WTF did we just watch debrief afterwards. Tommy
Wirkola, with his direction, brings the warmth and lushness of Christmas
coupled with both the coldness family can bring to the holidays and the
cold precision and brutality we’ve come to expect from films involving
David Leitch, who produces. Writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller thread a
similar needle as they did with the Sonic films, albeit way less family
friendly, finding a nearly impossible balance of tone that mostly works.

There are quibbles to be had for sure. The film is pure entertainment but
it’s not perfect. John Leguizamo is dependable and a joy to see as always
but I wish he had taken it a little further and chewed a little more
scenery. There’s room for it. The tone switches more deftly in some places
than in others and it’s easy to see how the dissonances could, at times,
be off putting to some who can’t or won’t fully get on board. There is a
lull in the middle where you start to wonder where all the violence in
Violent Night is. But, as much as that lull is a stumbling block it is
also a red herring that sends you barreling straight through a river of
pain and carnage to the end of the film. That river of mayhem includes an
homage to Home Alone that is worth the price of admission alone.

Bottom line? Every single person and aspect of this film commits. This is
Shakespeare. This is high art. This Cindy Lou Who wide eyed and singing
about Christmas cheer on a week long bender. This is a sleigh ride you
won’t soon forget.