Every now and then we need one of these silly, slapstick, self aware action adventures, and “Violent Night” fits the bill. It watches like a sketch on SNL, adapted in full length form. From minute one, it never forgets what kind of movie it is and paints a crude stroke over the Christmas spirit. For its intended audience, it’s a refreshing antidote to typical holiday fare. Tommy Wirkola’s “Violent Night” is “Die Hard,” and Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus,” meets “Bad Santa,” with full shot of Christmas adrenaline.
It also props Santa Claus up as something of a major bad ass.
When a team of mercenaries, led by the vicious “Ebenezer Scrooge” (John Leguizamo), breaks into the compound of the wealthy affluent Lightstone family on Christmas Eve, they take everyone inside hostage. However, the team isn’t prepared for a surprise combatant: A very cynical and angry Santa Claus (David Harbour). He is stuck on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint. Doing battle with the armed gun men one by one, he now finds new purpose, when he promises to save young Trudy (Leah Brady), a small girl who is being held hostage along with her parents.
Star David Harbour is a talented actor who is capable of salvaging any role, and his take on Santa Claus could have been over the top and ridiculous. But he manages to add surprising gravitas and empathy to the mythical figure. When we meet him he’s cynical, angry, and ready to retire from his calling. But fate ends up at his footstep when he finds one of his believers needs something more than a toy for the holidays. Despite not sharing a lot of screen time together, Harbour and Brady have great chemistry, playing well as the cynical hero who garners some sense of magic again thanks the hope she gives him.
Santa has no choice but to get R rated when he finds the bad guys are gun wielding maniacs, and director Tommy Wirkola has a great time with the Christmas aesthetic. Wirkola and the set designer take every advantage for a pun, sight gag, or Christmas reference, even staging a scene where Santa mends a wound with ribbon and wrapping paper. The screenplay by Pat Casey & Josh Miller is lean and mean, wasting no time getting down to the lump of coal that is these characters. They leave the optimism for heroine Trudy, writing her as someone who manages to save not just her family, but Santa, and Christmas altogether.
It’s intentionally sappy in some areas, but never stops with the intended effect. There’s ulra-violence, vicious torture, twists on the mythology and has a great time with the cast of Beverly D’Angelo, Cam Gigandet, and John Leguizamo; the latter of whom is great as the film’s enigmatic central villain. “Violent Night” knows what kind of movie it is, and I really hope we get a sequel. It’s bound to be considered a classic soon enough.