Violent Night

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God, I love a brutal Christmas movie. You know the ones, the films that still manage to give you a warm glow with yule tide cheer while dragging their characters through some viciously spiteful experience that feels all the more poignant by falling on Christmas Eve. Tiresome Die Hard and Lethal Weapon debates aside (they both totally are Christmas movies – deal with it), hoping to join the ranks of such nastily goofy flicks as Joe Dante’s Gremlins and Michael Dougherty’s Krampus is Violent Night, a cheerfully grisly action flick that takes the London of good old Saint Nick and turns him into John fucking McClane.
It’s the latest offering from 87North Productions, David (John Wick) Leitch’s company that seems to be going all out with making action heroes out of the most unlikely sources after Brad Pitt’s hippy criminal in Bullet Train and Bob Odenkirk’s downtrodden family man in Nobody – but can director Tommy Wirkola manage to add David Harbour’s schlubby Santa to this off-beat pantheon?

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Santa Claus is not only real, but is having something of a massive mid-life crisis as the pressures of his legendary job have taken their toll. Lamenting how times have changed and simmering in barely-contained frustration at the majority of kids presents now being video games or simply money, he drowns his sorrows by getting drunk in a bar before heading back out into the night with beer on his breath and vomit spraying out the side of his sleigh.
Meanwhile, enstranged couple Jason Lightstone and Linda Matthew’s have reunited for the holidays for the sake of their adorable daughter Trudy and are on the way to the Lightstone family compound in order to spend Xmas with his ridiculously wealthy and odiously selfish family. However, among the jibes and constant brown nosing, the bickering group are going to have something worse on their plate to deal with than dry turkey as a group mercenaries led by the cold “Mister Scrooge” take them all hostage with an eye on stealing the $300 million the foul mouthed matriarch has stashed in her vault.
But if the Lightstones hadn’t counted on these armed robbers storming their home, the robbers themselves haven’t banked on the actual Santa blundering into the middle of the whole thing and actually being able to handle himself although slightly reluctantly. Accidently killing one of the villains after a vicious scuffle and firing up a courage-building relationship with Trudy over a walkie talkie, Santa digs in deep and prepares to enter in a bloody war of attrition with the baffled criminals, but one thing that don’t realise that Santa hasn’t always been Santa and centuries ago, before his benevolent about-face, he was a gore soaked Viking warrior with his own battle hammer lovingly named Skullcrusher. Can our not-so jolly old fat man tap back into that mindset, save Trudy, and thin out his naughty list with the business end of a sledge hammer.

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So to address the tinsle wrapped elephant in the room, detractors that complain that Violent Night is nothing more than a Die Hard clone reskinned as to switch out bare feet and vests with a Santa suit and a sack full of presents actually have a point. David Harbour’s curmudgeonly hero mixes scrappy heroism with relatable bursts of fear that fix very much in the John McClane mold while John Leguizamo’s colourful band of mercenaries are wannabes of Hans Gruber’s charismatic team if they were dressed like festive Batman villains. Our hero also even has his own Sergent Al Powell on the other end of a radio in the form of Leah Brady’s genuinely sweet Trudy who’s devoted belief is on hand to big him up everytime the accumulated damage gets him flagging. However, while I’ve has issues with extended homaging before as it often drains the originality out of the room, Violent Night simply leans into the problem by making its liberal stealing from Die Hard and Home Alone not only mega-intentional but also part of the whole joke.
In the years since his star making turn as Hopper in Stanger Things, Harbour has cornered the market in grumpy, flawed, middle-aged bruisers and his turn as a rumpled, burned out Kris Kringle with nostril blood clotting his bedraggled beard is a winning addition as he rants, complains and drinks on the job before having to fight for his life while utilising Christmas decorations in shockingly gruesome ways. In many ways he (alongside the movie’s mischievous bloodlust) carry the entire film through some of its rougher or less original patches, but when taken as a gimmicky, party movie (very much like the camp levels of Krampus) it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun.

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Concerning the rough patches, the cartoonishly awful Lightstone’s aren’t actually all that funny – although it is nice to see Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswald herself) again – and John Leguizamo is a surprisingly bland villain with his snarky gang skewing more Die Hard 2 than the original gang. But when the movie is dedicating itself to solely to Claus bringing the pain it ends up being quite the undemanding gift, wrapped in paper formed of strenuous fight sequences and wrapped innate bow formed of brutal takedowns and belly laugh inducing fatalities. Dead Snow director Wirkola is obviously most comfortable setting up the hilariously savage fights and it’s here where the movie truly finds its groove as skulls are crushed like walnuts, people are beheaded with ice skates and Santa pulls off an impressive kill-move using a to chimney to air punching effect. In fact, the movie’s best sequence involving a direct nod to Home Alone with Trudy’s traps delivering the outrageous gore noticably lacking from Kevin McCallister’s inventive acts of Tom and Jerry style of home security that sees blood spraying all over the show that draws out winces and guffaws in equal measure.

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It ain’t exactly art and it’s definitely isn’t thought provoking, but you do get to see Santa feeding someone into a wood chipper with predictably rousing results and while the final moments veer a bit too far into into sentimentality, it’s still an unabashedly fun outing that takes full advantage of it’s far out premise even if never comes close to matching up to the movies it’s trying to emulate.
A stupidly entertaining stocking filler that nicely joins the ranks of genre-based crimbo fare and fulfills its daffy brief with sadistic glee.
Simply put, Violent Night won’t be getting a lump of coal this year…

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