Violent Night is the definitive anti-Hallmark Christmas movie. Anyone who has grown allergic to the cheery, saccharine tone of most yuletide cinema would be smart to check it out. The film is bloody and wickedly funny, with the message that a good old-fashioned ass-kicking is precisely what some people need to find under their tree. Who could argue with that? This action-comedy joins Die Hard, Krampus, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and several other features as alternative Christmas fare. If watching George Bailey realizing how wonderful his life is has worn you out, 112 minutes of entertaining chaos await here.
Estranged spouses Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder) want to give young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) a nice Christmas, so they put their problems aside and make their way to the compound of Jason's ultra-rich mother Gertrude (Beverly D'Angelo, milking her character's profane dialogue for all its worth). They're joined by his sister Alva (Edi Patterson), her struggling actor boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet), and her obnoxious social media star son Bert (Alexander Elliot). No revelry exists here, however. Everyone pretty much hates everyone else.
The family get-together is interrupted by “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo), a criminal with plans to steal the $300 million Gertrude has in her basement safe. He's assembled a team to assist in the theft. What he doesn't count on is the presence of Santa Claus (David Harbour) in the home at the same time. Yes, the real Santa. Old Saint Nick has grown fed up with the job, though, preferring to swig booze rather than to drink milk. And he's just pissed off enough to enjoy the opportunity to sleigh...I mean slay...these bad guys after seeing the danger Trudy is in.
Obviously, Violent Night isn't particularly deep. With its simple set-up established, the movie gives us a series of scenes in which Santa reaches into his magic bag to find a present he can bash someone's face in with or beats enemies with billiard balls shoved into a stocking. All the while, he delivers witty Christmas-themed one-liners. (“Santa's gonna eat through these guys like a plate full of cookies!”) At one point, the film pauses to allow the Home Alone-obsessed Trudy to put together her own series of booby traps that hilariously foil one of Mr. Scrooge's men.
The sheer brazenness of the picture is what makes it funny. Violent Night doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. Even the most depraved acts of violence are portrayed humorously; they're intentionally outlandish. Writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog) also craft sharp dialogue, often insults for the characters to hurl at each other. In spite of this, they still manage to inject a tiny bit of sincerity, specifically in the way Santa forms a connection with Trudy. He may be a tad brutish, but the innocence of a child still warms his heart.
David Harbour ties everything together, turning in a performance that is truly a sight to behold. The actor hits the precise balance needed, giving Santa a surly demeanor, yet not so surly that we don't believe his intentions in wanting to protect Trudy are true. Whether he's chastising his reindeer for defecating on someone's roof or encouraging the little girl to hold on to her belief in his magic, Harbour never makes a wrong move. He understands Violent Night needs to be a big, silly, rambunctious joyride. And with him at the center, it totally is.
out of four
Violent Night is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.