All is Not Calm in VIOLENT NIGHT
Anyone who considers themselves a fan of the subgenre of action/dark comedy holiday films like Rare Exports or Anna and the Apocalypse may want to watch Violent Night. Forget about Tim Allen in The Santa Clause (I’d like to forget that franchise). There’s a new and savage Santa Claus in town, played by David Harbour, in the latest film from Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola. Violent Night has been accurately described by many as "Die Hard meets Home Alone" in this brutal thriller centering on a holiday home invasion and heist.
After centuries of giving presents to children around the world, Santa Claus has become disillusioned by the materialism and loss of the holiday spirit. He’s nearly drunk himself into a stupor on what he expects to be his last Christmas Eve. What he doesn’t know is that inside his next stop at the Lightstone estate, a team of mercenaries is preparing to take a family hostage, including 7-year old Trudy and her parents Jason and Linda Lightstone. The estate is owned by Jason’s mother, the wealthy matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D'Angelo), and other family members present include Jason's alcoholic sister Alva and her wannabe-action star and boyfriend Morgan Steele, as well as Alva's son Bertrude. When Trudy expresses her disappointment at Jason not taking her to the mall to Santa, Jason offers her an old walkie talkie so that she can "talk to Santa."
Santa arrives at the Lightstone estate to deliver gifts, where he engages in a brutal battle with some of the mercenaries outside. After finding a walkie talkie on a deceased henchman, Santa hears Trudy's channel and sees that she is on his nice list. Santa decides to help save her, especially after confirming that all the mercenaries are on his naughty list.
It’s revealed that long before he was Santa Claus, he was a Viking warrior and quite effective with a warhammer. Conveniently, Santa discovers a hammer in a shed that he uses to brutally slaughter a kill squad. Meanwhile, Trudy creates traps inside the mansion, inspired by Home Alone.
Harbour steals the show as the disenchanted Santa, and Leah Brady as Trudy is endearing. Unfortunately with the exception of John Leguizamo as the main villain “Mr. Scrooge”, the performances of the supporting cast are less memorable.
The fight choreography is overly lengthy and repetitive at times, and would have benefited from editing and pacing improvements.
Violent Night at its best is a darkly comedic and well-paced slaughterfest of brutal violence that left me cringing and laughing simultaneously. The subversion of the mythos of Santa Claus is both entertaining and fascinating, reminiscent of the incomparable Rare Exports. I would have enjoyed learning more about Santa’s evolution from Viking warrior to the “benevolent” St. Nick.
Violent Night addresses and satirizes the devolution of holiday spirit and cheer, into commercialism and an obsession with materialism in our modern society. I’ve added it to the lower tier of my list of alternative holiday movies for future viewing.