Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Stars: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Beverly D’Angelo, Alex Louder, Leah Brady, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, Alexander Elliott, Brendan Fletcher, Andre Eriksen, Mike Dopud, Mitra Suri.
Die Hard meets Home Alone.
The wealthy Lightstone family gather at their secure remote family compound to celebrate Christmas. But this is a dysfunctional family as everyone tries to suck up to Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo, from the National Lampoon Vacation series), the family matriarch to curry favour and remain in her good graces. Jason (Alex Hassell, from tv series Cowboy Bebop, etc) is separated from his wife Linda (Alex Louder, from The Terminal List, etc) but they put on a united front for this gathering. Their seven-year-old daughter Trudy (newcomer Leah Brady) wishes that her parents would get back together again. The vapid Alva (Edi Patterson, from tv series The Righteous Gemstones, etc) is married to narcissistic B-grade action movie star Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet, from Twilight series, etc) and their teenaged son Bert (Alexander Elliott, from tv series The Hardy Boys, etc) is an aspiring influencer who is addicted to his social media feeds.
But then armed mercenaries, under the leadership of Scrooge (John Leguizamo, recently seen in The Menu) take over the house and hold the family hostage. They have come to steal $340 million from the vault in the basement.
An unlikely saviour ccming to the family’s rescue though is Santa Claus (David Harbour, from tv series Stranger Things, etc) who has entered the besieged compound via a chimney to deliver presents to Trudy who is on his “nice” list. He finds himself abandoned when his reindeer take off, startled by the sound of gunfire. Stranded he has little choice but to fight back, especially when Trudy reaches him via a walkie-talkie given to her as an early present by her father. But this is not your typical jolly Santa, rather he is an overweight, foul-mouthed alcoholic who is bitter and cynical and sick of the false cheer of Christmas. He is disillusioned by the realisation that the Christmas spirit has now been overtaken by rampant commercialism and he is suffering an existential crisis.
This Santa is also the incarnation of a former vicious Viking warrior who slaughtered his way across Scandinavia. Drawing upon those long-forgotten battle-hardened skills, he takes down the armed mercenaries with the clever improvised use of Christmas decorations, a little bit of “Christmas magic” and a sledgehammer which comes in handy. There is a perverse pleasure in watching this badass Santa take down the armed terrorists. The mercenaries are dispatched in gory fashion while cheerful Christmas songs play in the background, creating a nice dissonance.
Meanwhile Trudy has hidden herself in the attic and constructed some clever and nasty booby traps to try and protect herself from the villains with surprisingly enjoyable results. The slapstick humour here has a decidedly nastier edge to it.
Violent Night is great fun and delivers a high body count. This enjoyable and violent Christmas offering comes from Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, who gave us the zombie Nazis of 2009’s wonderful splatter horror film Dead Snow. It is clear he has a taste for the bizarre and offbeat and he effortlessly mixes the gore with some streaks of black humour. Violent Night has been written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, who are best known for having scripted the live action take on Sonic The Hedgehog, and they have happily borrowed from a number of festive movies for their ideas. And former stunt man turned producer David Leitch is no stranger to this kind of over the top and visceral kinetically staged action film, having worked on the John Wick series as well as directing films like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool.
Harbour is perfectly cast here, and he brings a nicely irreverent and gruff edge to his role as a grizzled anti-Santa, and he handles the physical demands well. He is clearly having fun here. Leguizamo oozes menace and makes for a nice antagonist. Brady is great as Trudy, mixing vulnerability with a feisty resilient personality, while an almost unrecogniseable D’Angelo chews the scenery as the bitchy and foul-mouthed matriarch. All of the supporting cast do well to give life to their unlikeable characters and their selfish attitude.
A high concept action movie, Violent Night is thoroughly enjoyable and something of a guilty pleasure, and it should go to the top of your wish list for Christmas entertainment.