Violent Night (Review) – If Die Hard Were An Actual Christmas Movie

DIRECTOR: Tommy Wirkola

CAST: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Leah Brady, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Beverly D’Angelo, André Eriksen, Alexander Elliot

RUNNING TIME: 101 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A violent home invasion is interrupted by the arrival of Santa Claus (Harbour)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

It seems to be a near-universally accepted fact that Die Hard is indeed a Christmas film – but every year, there often seems to be those who attempt to disprove that claim, and at this point it’s kind of like hearing someone say that the Earth is flat. “If it’s a Christmas film,” they might try to argue, “then where’s all the Christmas stuff? Where’s Santa? Where are the carols? Where’s the snow, even in a warm climate like Los Angeles? Why isn’t Bruce Willis killing anyone with tinsel?” On and on and on it goes, and it’s almost always as flimsy an argument as the cheapest wrapping paper bought last minute on Christmas Eve.

Violent Night, from director Tommy Wirkola, appears to have been made exclusively for those kind of people, if only to finally shut them up by saying, “you want Die Hard to be an actual Christmas movie? Well, here you go – we’ve got snow, carols, decorations, and John McClane is replaced by Santa Claus himself!” It’s a fair compromise, but luckily the movie is entertaining enough to work even for the true believers in Die Hard’s status as a festive classic.

The film begins as Santa Claus (David Harbour) is making the usual rounds on Christmas Eve. However, the formally jolly ol’ Saint Nick has grown disillusioned with the holiday, lamenting the rampant materialism in today’s children, and is strongly considering this being his last Christmas. Things get real, though, when he accidentally stumbles on a home invasion; a gang of mercenaries, led by a guy codenamed “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo), have infiltrated the home of a wealthy family who is said to have millions of dollars in their safe, and are holding the family hostage until they give him the access code. Luckily for the family, young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) is on Santa’s nice list, so he decides to stick around and help out – and by “help out”, I mean he brutally makes his way through each one of the villainous goons by sledgehammering them to death, electrocuting them with stars, strangling them with tinsel, and using whatever magical arsenal he has to save the day, and maybe even his own Christmas spirit.

As you can tell, Violent Night very much rides on the Die Hard formula, but it’s one that certainly seems to be in on the joke that it is also supposed to be an actual Christmas movie, so you’ll have scenes of ass-kicking Santa swapping Yuletide-related one-liners just before he makes a gloriously bloody assault on the bad guys, as though even he seems to be aware of how silly it all is. It manages to work, largely because David Harbour is great casting for this kind of Santa Claus, who’s a mix between Billy Bob Thornton’s swearier and drunker rendition in Bad Santa, and the kind of reluctant action hero that often led such films in the wake of Die Hard’s success. Harbour not only nails the film’s consistent tongue-in-cheek tone, but as a proper Santa he does have some genuinely heartfelt scenes that do make him as lovable as some of the most famous versions of the character, ensuring that you’re very much rooting for him to make his way through these villains like a plate of gingerbread cookies.

And boy, does he ever, as Violent Night earns its title with an unapologetic level of violence and gore that is hugely entertaining to watch. There are deaths in this movie where so much blood is splattering across the room that you have to stop for a second to wonder if you’re watching a slasher movie instead, and while a lot of it is certainly played for laughs – one particularly hilarious sequence plays out like a far deadlier remake of Home Alone, with some of the same traps but with far more realistic consequences – it still somehow feels gorier than many of the actual horror movies released this year, and the fact that I can legitimately say that about a film where Santa Claus is the main protagonist is kind of awesome. The film works best when it is indulging in such festive carnage, which admittedly does make it more noticeable when there are long stretches around the middle that tend to drag, as well as when some characters say and do things that are a bit too stupid, even within this fantastical set-up.

While parts of it don’t entirely work, Violent Night has enough to its name that makes it a pretty decent Christmas action movie. Of course, Die Hard will pretty much always be considered the top-tier example of that type of deadly, no-holes-barred festive flick with more guns than snow or decorations, but at least now we have a film that all those deniers can go to and praise for being, in their eyes, the kind of Christmas movie that Die Hard just can never be. Thankfully, it’s the kind of film where Santa Claus pushes people onto sharp icicles and shoves people into woodchippers, so there’s something for everyone this Christmas season.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Violent Night is a Christmas action movie that definitely seems to have been made for anyone complaining that Die Hard isn’t an actual Christmas film, but it’s entertaining enough with its gory and often funny action, as well as a genuinely heartfelt turn by David Harbour as a less jolly Santa Claus, to work for anyone regardless of their acceptance for the action classic as a Yuletide favourite.

Violent Night is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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