December 2, 2022
David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Beverly D'Angelo
An elite team of mercenaries breaks into a family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone hostage inside. However, they aren't prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus is on the grounds, and he's about to show why this Nick is no saint.
Written By Darren
Rating 3 out of 5
Violent Night benefits greatly from a truly committed performance from David Harbour as Santa Claus, and while the film delivers the violent Christmas Eve promised by the trailers, there is no denying that the film is not nearly as fun as it should be.
Ever since seeing the trailer showing David Harbour as a violent and alcoholic version of Santa tracking down and killing mercenaries, I have been excited to see Violent Night. It is a mixture of Die Hard and Home Alone in terms of story as Santa hunts down a group of mercenaries on Christmas Eve, with the violence of the John Wick series due to producer David Leitch’s involvement. The result is no doubt entertaining, but it never reaches the heights that it could have reached. The story is straightforward as Santa hunts down a group of mercenaries who have taken control of the Lightstone family compound on Christmas Eve, holding the family hostage while robbing their vault which holds a large sum of money. Throughout the film, we see themes of the fading Christmas spirit as individual’s grow up, Santa’s disenchantment with being Santa, and a lovely Home Alone subplot as the youngest member of the Lightstone family is hiding in the house from the mercenaries.
The action sequences are outstanding, delivering the brutality and gore that the audience has come for. They are guaranteed to have your job drop, as they are truly startling in how violent and gory they are, which are guaranteed to have you simultaneously laughing and gasping in shock as you watch Santa claim his next victim. Without a doubt, the best of these scenes is the Home Alone inspired scene as Trudy sets some deadly traps for the mercenaries, which results in two of the most hilarious and gruesome deaths of the film that will leave you with a gleeful joy.
Helping flush out the story is the lead performance of David Harbour, who is having a blast as this darker, more jaded version of Santa. He possesses the grit to capture this disenchanted iteration of Santa, while having that twinkle in his step that infuses the Christmas spirit into every scene of the film. Opposite Harbour is Leah Brady as Trudy Lightstone in her big screen debut, and she captures that childhood wonder of Christmas and creates the heart of the film with her relationship with Harbour’s Santa. The two of them have beautiful chemistry that brings to life this tender and sweet friendship, which is the emotional core of the entire film.
John Leguizamo makes for a great villain, relishing in the sinister role he has given with some genius one liners. Always known to be fun, Leguizamo livens up the film with his presence as only he could. Though, it is Beverly D’Angelo who consistently steals the film. D’Angelo has come back to claim her title of Queen of the Holiday film genre, having previously starred in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and she is absolutely hilarious as the matriarch of the Lightstone family. Every time the camera focuses on her, she delivers a zinger of a one liner full of profanity which is guaranteed to have you laughing uncontrollably. It is just too bad that the film does not take full advantage of D’Angelo’s presence, because her character is not given much to do other than deliver the odd one liner here and there.
However, the film has two main problems. First off, at a run time of almost two hours, the film overstays its welcome. The middle act grinds to a halt as the film creates some unnecessary drama to fill the time, and it struggles at times. This is the type of film that should be ninety minutes, and the first and third act know exactly what they need to do to deliver the film the audience has come for.
But more importantly, the film takes itself too seriously. This is a film where Santa brutally murders mercenaries in a terribly bloody manner, and it needed to be more fun. Yes, the kills will have the audience cheering and the script is every bit as cheesy as you want a Christmas film to be, not counting the terrible “Christmas dies tonight” line, but the film does not lay into the Christmas aspect of the story enough. Whether it be using more Christmas music to accompany Santa brutally murdering individuals or more holiday jokes, the film needed to lean harder into the absurdity of the concept and take itself a little less seriously to become the holiday classic it hoped to be.
There is no denying that Violent Night is fun, as it has the violent Santa moments that the audience has come from with some truly hilarious moments sprinkled throughout. But, there is no denying that this could have been something even better if it was more fine tuned and played into the concept harder while taking itself less seriously. Packed with brutal violence that will leave a gleeful smile on your face, Violent Night is a great mix of other holiday classics led by the terrific David Harbour, even if the film cannot fully deliver on its premise.