By: Jolie Featherstone
This is Santa like you’ve never seen him before. Tommy Wirkola’s Violent Night is a bloody action flick blended with some heart-warming Christmas cheer. But yeah, lots of blood.
A couple going through a separation reunite for Christmas Eve festivities for the sake of their sweet-natured daughter, Trudy (a beyond-charming Leah Brady). Trudy loves Christmas and is excited to be together. We soon learn, though, that this is no Norman Rockwell family Christmas party.
Trudy’s father is part of the wealthy Lightstone family, and their Christmas Eve is held on a massive, guarded family compound. While Trudy and her family try to enjoy the night despite the antics of their competitive and materialistic relatives, we learn that there is some tension between Trudy’s father, Jason (Alex Hassell), and family matriarch, Gertrude Lightstone (played exquisitely by the Queen of Family Christmases herself, Beverly D’Angelo).
The uncomfortable night takes a turn for the worse when a team of mercenaries (led by John Leguizamo) break in and take the family hostage. However, the mercenaries did not plan for an additional dinner guest: Santa Claus himself (David Harbour).
Santa isn’t the jolly man in red as seen on countless Coca Cola bottles. He’s gruff, brash, and he’s fed up. He’s had enough of each generation getting greedier, more detached, and more materialistic each year. He’s contemplating leaving the job. Until, that is, he receives a desperate plea for help from one Trudy Lightstone.
Santa springs into action – and I truly do mean action. Santa’s not only a figure of goodness and generosity, oh no. He’s also a highly skilled combatant who knows his way around a chimney.
Violent Night is from 87North, the folks behind some recent action smash-hits such as John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Nobody, Deadpool 2, and more. Director Wirkola is no stranger to taking childhood icons and giving them a makeover: he penned and directed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. I don’t normally get squeamish, but I had to look away more than a few times during the movie. One thing’s for sure: you’ll never look at the star on top of the Christmas tree the same way again.
David Harbour (2019’s Hellboy, Netflix’s Stranger Things) is fantastic as Warrior Santa. The role is a fine line to walk, yet Harbour brings a realism and an emotional center to the character. You can feel his full-body exhaustion. You can hear his exasperation and disillusionment with society. Yet, you can see the cautious kindness and tenderness as he gets to know Trudy, and reflects on his past. Harbour is no stranger to playing lovable action stars. In this role, he tackles one of the world’s most beloved icons and he slays it.
John Leguizamo revels in playing the Christmas-hating villain. His henchman Krampus (played by Brendan Fletcher) also delivers a committed, high-energy villainous performance. Beverly D’Angelo does a complete 180-degree turn from her Mrs. Ellen Griswold legacy as the cut-throat, money-hungry professional who has little patience for her dysfunctional family. The reveal of her casting was a pleasant surprise that was well-received.
Violent Night is a blend of hardcore action, campy fun, and dark gross-out humour. Think an inverse version of Miracle on 34th Street – a young girl with an unbreakable belief in the goodness of Santa, a will-they-won’t-they relationship, and Santa Claus willing to put up with just about everything to keep a child’s Christmas spirit alive. Just add a big helping of violent crime, merciless criminals, a competitive family, and more blood you can shake a candy cane at!
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles