There’s nothing quite like an unconventional Christmas movie. While I’m all about classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and the myriad of movies based on A Christmas Carol, I also love a movie about Christmas that shows its festive cheer in unique and different ways. Of course I love Silent Night, Deadly Night, featuring a crazed slasher movie Santa. I’m also down for Die Hard, which has Bruce Willis saving Nakatomi Plaza from Hans Gruber on Christmas Day. And then you have Violent Night, which I went into thinking was going to be more of the former but is actually a lot of the latter.
Violent Night is the kind of simple Christmas action movie I can get behind. I saw this movie back at New York Comic Con and even then, I knew that this was going to be a nice Christmas alternative for a lot of people this year. Some people want Christmas joy and some people want Viking Santa with a giant sledgehammer. Maybe, just maybe, I am both of those people.
I am, I totally am both of those people.
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Release Date: December 2, 2022 (Theatrical)
Santa Claus (David Harbour) is tired of being Santa Claus. He feels no joy in his job whatsoever thanks to the spoiled children and exhausting work schedule and is going to make this Christmas his last one. While out delivering presents, he stops at the wealthy mansion of the Lightstone family, who are having an awkward and deeply uncomfortable Christmas party. They’re your typical rich jerks, with the exception of the son Jason (Alex Hassell), his wife Linda (Alexis Louder), and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady). But in typical Die Hard fashion, their mansion is invaded by an organized group of criminals led by John Leguizamo, seeking billions of dollars held by the family in a secret vault. With the entire complex locked down, Santa is stuck there and needs to find a way to escape, but more realistically, defeat the mercenaries and save Christmas.
Violent Night isn’t exactly an original movie. Most of its big jokes and action scenes have a lot of elements taken from other Christmas movies, like an extended Home Alone sequence that’s laced with some violent gags. That’s not a bad thing mind you, as these sequences feel more like homages to classic Christmas films rather than the movie stealing from others. The amount of holiday-themed killing is actually pretty remarkable, with no one person killed in the exact same way. Plus David Harbour does get quite a body count in the film, easily being the best part of the film thanks to his imposing figure and his character’s progression from meek coward to violent executioner.
At times, it feels like the movie is restraining itself in a lot of ways. By the time you reach the climax, which has lots of violent and gory imagery and set pieces, you wonder where this movie was the entire time. It does relate to David Harbour’s Santa and the arc that his character goes through, but there’s a lot of downtime in between the action scenes that will make you start to wonder when we’re going to get back to the violent bits. The exception to this is the conversations between Santa and Trudy, who talk via walkie-talkies, and develop a genuine friendship as they confide in each other and be honest with one another. Santa doesn’t try to lie to Trudy either and gives her meaningless pleasantries, which is appreciated. It never comes across as corny, but rather as genuine.
The movie does feel slow for the first half, which is mostly due to the bland supporting cast. The Lightstone’s are your typical rich jerks who only care about cozying up to Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), the wealthy matriarch of the family. They have some decent gags about them, mostly pertaining to how stupid and out of touch they are with the real world, but we don’t really care about any of them. They were held hostage for the entire film, but I didn’t care if any harm came to them. Jason and Linda fall into that category as well, but not because they’re rich jerks. They’re down to Earth and are quite kind, but once you realize that the two of them are divorced and don’t love each other anymore, you know exactly where they’ll end up by the time the credits roll.
The bad guys are pretty generic as well, but not for the same reasons. At first, they seem to be cut from the same cloth as the terrorists from Die Hard, but they lack anything that distinguishes them from one another. The only ones I could remember were the blonde one because she’s the token blonde, and the sociopath they leave to watch the family in the elf costume because of how outlandishly funny he was. Everyone else leaves absolutely zero impact. The Die Hard terrorists worked because even though they were generic, each of them was able to do at least one thing that made them stand out and had unique personalities. We remember Karl, who wanted to kill John McClane as vengeance for the death of his brother, Theo for his dramatic hacking moments, and the candy bar guy! Who could forget the candy bar guy?
Just because Violent Night isn’t original doesn’t make it not entertaining. It all comes together in a safe, but fun, popcorn flick. If you want to see Santa Claus kill people with festive cheer, you’ll get that. If you want to have some of those stereotypical Christmas tropes, Violent Night will provide them for you. I don’t think it reaches the heights of other Christmas movies and I doubt that this is going to be a Christmas classic, but it’s a fun movie for the holidays. This is the kind of movie that you watch in the theaters with a group of friends, then go back to watching your Christmas classics with your family. It doesn’t want to be anything more than what’s on the tin, and I find it hard to fault a movie like that.