Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast : David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Leah Brady, Cam Gigandet, Edie Patterson, Beverly D’Angelo
Run Time : 112 min
Opens : 1 December 2022
Rating : M18
He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, and if you’ve been especially bad, he might bash your knees in with a sledgehammer, or maybe stab you in the eye with the star atop the Christmas tree (before plugging the Christmas lights into the mains). This is the take-no-prisoners version of Santa Claus featured in this action comedy.
It is Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus (David Harbour) is busy delivering presents to children around the world. He happens to be visiting the Lightstone estate as terrorists led by Scrooge (John Leguizamo) break into the compound and hold the family hostage. The hostages include Lightstone matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), Gertrude’s adult son Skyler (Alex Hassell), Skyler’s estranged wife Margie (Alexis Louder), Skyler and Margie’s young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady), Skyler’s sister Alva (Edie Patterson), Alva’s boyfriend Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and Alva’s son Bert (Alexander Elliot). Gertrude has stashed away $300 million in a vault on the property, and Scrooge and his team are after the loot. The one thing they didn’t count on was Santa Claus saving the day in, as the title suggests, particularly brutal fashion.
Violent Night has an absolutely delightful premise: given all the arguments over several decades about whether or not Die Hard classifies as a Christmas movie, why not make a Die Hard-esque movie that is definitely a Christmas movie – by placing Santa himself at its centre? Pat Casey and Josh Miller’s screenplay is frequently funny and director Tommy Wirkola is perfectly at home with the dark humour and bloody action, having helmed the Nazi zombie horror comedy Dead Snow and its sequel Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead. Violent Night is produced by 87North, the studio behind Nobody, Kate and Bullet Train. Second unit director and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio’s credits include the John Wick movies, The Fate of the Furious and Black Panther. True to its promise, Violent Night delivers lots of satisfyingly bone-crunching action.
It’s a given that Violent Night would be cynical, but sometimes, perhaps it’s a little too cynical and glib for its own good. It can be difficult to take the stakes seriously because everyone is very quippy, and the movie’s emotional moments struggle to land because they’re at odds with the bleakly tongue-in-cheek tone of the rest of the movie. There is some good action in the beginning and there’s an explosive finale, but the midsection sags a bit, not unlike Santa’s belly that shakes when he laughs (like a bowlful of jelly).
The big draw is David Harbour as Santa Claus, a role which he, if you’ll forgive us, sleighs. Harbour makes great use of his persona as a larger-than-life figure, honed via roles like Sheriff Hopper in Stranger Things, Red Guardian in Black Widow and the title character in the much-maligned Hellboy reboot. Harbour executes all the action beats convincingly, but also conveys the weariness of a man who has been alive for millennia, and whose spark is all but extinguished. The movie also sprinkles in just enough hints of a backstory for Santa. And unlike the wholly unlikeable dark Santa played by Mel Gibson in Fatman, Harbour’s version still has a loveable side.
Summary: Violent Night delivers what it says on the tin: Die Hard starring Santa Claus. It’s a darkly funny movie that features action devised by the stunt team that worked on the John Wick movies. David Harbour’s central performance as Santa is funny and even unexpectedly emotional. There’s plenty of blood and gore and the filmmakers have a lot of fun with the incongruity of bloody violence set against a holiday backdrop, even if this is far from the first movie to attempt it. With a strong premise anchored by a committed star, Violent Night is destined to be added to the Christmas action movie rotation alongside Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Batman Returns.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars