When a group of mercenaries attacks the estate of a wealthy family, Santa Claus must step in to save the day in all manner of brutal ways. Digital editor Dan Jensen enjoys the slay ride with a new Christmas comedy/action film offering something a little different.
IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE and a group of sophisticated mercenaries have taken over a building, attempting to steal millions of dollars from a vault. Meanwhile, it’s up to one reluctant hero to save the revellers being held captive as a game of cat-and-mouse ensues between him and the thieves’ villainous leader.
Sound familiar? One could be forgiven for thinking that’s the plot to 1988’s Die Hard, but it’s also a fitting synopsis to Violent Night, a new dark comedy/action film from Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola. Only this time, the building is a luxurious mansion and the hero is Santa Claus. Yep, jolly old Saint Nick is now a badass action movie hero. But before you think the spirit of Christmas is now sullied, read on.
Violent Night gives us a Santa (played brilliantly by David Harbour) who is tired and carries the burden of a crushed spirit since the true meaning of Christmas has been overrun by consumerism and greed. He makes a stop at a mansion where a wealthy family is gathering under the sneering nose of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo), a woman with such obnoxious dominance that her grandson has been named Bertrude to appease her. As the dysfunctional family argues over anything and everything, Santa takes a moment to relax while a team of bandits, led by the Christmas-hating Jimmy “Scrooge” Martinez (John Leguizamo), invades the residence with the intention of stealing a fortune from the Lightstone vault.
What ensues is 112 minutes of absolute mayhem, packed with laughs, bullets and a rather sweet message about the spirit of Christmas. But in the hands of the same man who has given us such films as Dead Snow and the underrated Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, it works quite well. Violent Night feels like the weird lovechild of Die Hard, Home Alone and the John Wick franchise, the first two films even being referenced cleverly in the script. And had it been placed in the hands of a typical Hollywood director, it may not have worked quite so well.
David Harbour is excellent as Santa, providing some truly standout moments and delivering some hilarious dialogue. He looks perfect in the role and makes Santa’s misery feel genuine, capturing the viewer’s sympathy from the opening scene. Sure, the idea of him becoming a force to be reckoned with against a team of armed thugs is silly, but the film knows what it's doing and never takes itself seriously at all. There are moments where it’s hinted at why he’s so adept at combat and possesses keen fighting skills, but they’re brief and a total tease. Perhaps a prequel film might fill in the blanks down the track because those flashbacks were intriguing.
Beverly D’Angelo is completely despicable in her role and a character you love to hate. Equally, John Leguizamo plays the role of Scrooge with delightful nastiness. Newcomer Leah Brady shines on screen as Gertrude’s granddaughter, also named Gertude (but going by Trudy as a snub against her namesake), providing an ally on the inside for Santa and the relationship between the two becoming the heart and soul of the story.
Unfortunately, most of the characters in the film are incredibly two-dimensional, boiling down to nothing more than generic stereotypes. There’s no substance to anyone, with only Santa and Scrooge really having any emotional depth. But the characters still serve their purpose, since the film is more about the spectacle of watching Santa brutally taking out a small army of mercenaries rather than getting too invested in anyone’s backstory or motivations.
Violent Night does also tend to suffer a little from an uneven tone here and there. In a movie that brings together laughs, tenderness and ultra-violence, it must have been quite a difficult juggling act trying to keep the narrative from becoming muddled. For the most part, Wirkola pulls it off. But there are a few moments where the energy of the story stalls a little to inject some more heartwarming moments that feel a little poorly timed. Thankfully, those moments are few and far between and it never takes too long before the audience is back to laughing or squirming (or often both at once).
Overall, Violent Night is a bizarre Christmas film that is going to appeal to anyone with a twisted sense of humour and is after something unique. It might not rank up there with the festive season classics, but it’s well worth a watch for the mad spectacle of a warm and cheerful Christmas message shining through a pile of broken bones and severed limbs.
Violent Night is now showing in cinemas across Australia.
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