Violent Night (2022) Review
David Harbour (Hellboy, Black Widow) of smash-hit Stranger Things fame really kills it (pun intended) with Norwegian Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, The Trip) directing a new look at Santa fresh as fallen snow. And indeed, Wirkola knows how to work in sub-zero temperatures in this holiday film made in Manitoba. I like how more and more movies are being made in Canada. David Leitch with Kelly McKormick from the John Wick franchise are the producers, in case you were wondering what kind of comedy-action movie you were in for.
Sometimes, in order for a tale to be refreshing, it must be tired and old in order to be told anew. Actually, maybe that’s just Santa. In Violent Night, Harbour breathes new life into Santa by going about his holly jolly work on Christmas Eve by giving us a dirtbag Santa. He drinks himself stupid, he’s a bit sloppy and unkempt. But he’s still the real deal. You can tell by his er, commitment to the job. And by his real beard of grey, and his handsome suit and cap of red.
Now, Santa’s not a bad guy. He really wants to avoid violence by any means. But Santa at this time of year seems a little unhappy. Maybe a little jaded. He is really struggling with the current screen-obsessed generation. He has no clue what to get kids for Christmas anymore, all they want now are video games and cash. (Too real.)
It’s December 24th, and our jolly old St. Nick is just about to set off on his annual sleigh ride. Meanwhile, the Lightstone family is getting ready for Christmas. As ready as they’ll ever be, I suppose. Though Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell, The Boys, Cowboy Be-Bop) has cordially invited Linda (Alexis Louder, Copshop, TV’s The Watchmen), his wife whom he’s newly separated from who’s an engineer, to his filthy rich mom’s mansion for Christmas.
They’re bringing their pre-teen daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady, Umbrella Academy, Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls), in a co-parenting effort to make the holidays nice for her. Jason’s sister Alva (Edi Patterson, Knives Out, The Righteous Gemstones), a dim-witted alcoholic with aspirations to become CEO of her mother’s company, is also visiting with her equally dull actor boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet, Twilight, Black Warrant).
Accompanying them is Alva’s teenage wannabe-influencer son. Jason’s mother Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo, National Lampoon’s Vacation, American History X) is a foul-mouthed matriarch who tosses her love and money to her kids like bones to dogs.
While the family is spoiling to have a good scrap, Jason and Linda excuse themselves to tuck Trudy into bed for the night. While getting wound down for bed, Trudy reminds her dad of his promise to take her to see Santa at the mall. Jason winces because he completely forgot. He assures her it’s been a weird year (because don’t the worst of toils and heartaches always seem to land at Christmas?). He rushes away to find just the thing to fix the situation-a walkie-talkie with headphones. A cute way to humour a little girl, or a direct line to Santa?
The night is far from over, however. The grim-looking caterers hired for the Christmas party, all decked out in holiday costumes, are actually an inside job. They work for a career criminal (John Leguizamo, Vanishing on 7th Street, Righteous Kill) who only goes by “Mr. Scrooge”, and who is definitely on Santa’s Naughty list.
One thing I thought was interesting about Violent Night was not just the genre-busting of making it a gorey, gruesome R-rated film when typically, Christmas movies cater to “family-friendly”. I also enjoyed the attention to detail, like I loved Harbour’s Santa costume. The red leather coat over some armour really sold the fact that he’s an ass-kicking Santa. Also, an ass-kicked Santa. If David Harbour got his butt handed to him in any more in movies and TV, he’d be a noir protagonist.
And between David Harbour and Kurt Russell’s Santa from The Christmas Chronicles, I feel like I should be making a joke about how real Santas wear leather. I’m sure Harbour’s Santa finds the red leather easy to wipe all the blood off. Also, Harbour was pretty believable with his Santa hat on. But he also evoked the cool Viking look without his hat on, with his hair tied back. As was his Santa’s heritage.
Since tired, jaded adults who may have lost the faith are the target audience here, I think Violent Night does well in hitting its mark. The film has holiday charm, but at the same time also has a message about materialism, and about believing in Santa (because Santa will save your ass). And it sends this message without being preachy. After all, Santa will always be a part of pop culture and society, whether the “Scrooges” of the world believe in him or not.
The movie is also gad-dang hilarious. Violent Night had me laughing hard the whole time, and I really loved the candy cane gag. Seeing a Santa who was willing to commit violence was a Santa to cheer for, for me. I initially thought it was going to be a movie about an evil Santa. I would have been willing to see an evil Santa movie.
I’m not against those, in principle. Charles E. Sellier, Jr’s Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) starring Robert Brian Wilson was an awful lot of fun. But, that type of fun probably wouldn’t fly in the multiplex today (and didn’t, with Silent Night, Deadly Night back in the day). So, in this case, I think an anti-hero Santa is the right fit for this kind of movie.
David Harbour’s Santa, I would believe in. But probably better to throw Violent Night on after the kiddies are in bed, and you’ve spiked your eggnog with rum. Violent Night is currently in theatres via Universal, Blu-ray, VOD and Digital release dates are yet to be announced, you can keep an eye on the film’s website and Facebook page for announcements. And while you wait, you check with FilmTagger for something similar to hold you over.