Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Premise: On Christmas Eve, a wealthy family is held hostage by a team of criminals who intend to rob their vault. Santa Claus (David Harbour) is stranded in the house mid-robbery and takes on the criminals.
What Works: There have recently been several violent re-imaginings of Santa Claus, usually recasting Kris Kringle as the villain, as seen in Saint and Rare Exports, or as an action hero as was done in Fatman. Those films were preceded by 2003’s Bad Santa which featured an alcoholic, self-destructive safecracker posing as a shopping mall Santa. These films are connected by disillusionment with the holiday season. Violent Night continues this trend and in many respects ties all of them together. It has the vulgar humor of Bad Santa, the violence of Rare Exports, and the heroic but cynical Kris Kringle of Fatman. The movie works best when it plays on those themes. The Santa of Violent Night is unwittingly caught up in a situation that requires him to be heroic and in doing so he rediscovers his sense of purpose. The filmmakers acknowledge the mythological origins of Saint Nicholas and work it into the story in a way that pays off in the end. This is primarily an action picture in which the violence is visceral but also absurd; at one point Santa dispatches a henchman with a Christmas tree star. Violent Night is one of the better juxtapositions of violence with the wholesomeness of the holiday. The film benefits from the relationship between Santa and the captive girl played by Leah Brady. This subplot gives the movie some human warmth. Also notable is the music score by Dominic Lewis. The music has a lot of different sounds, at times drawing inspiration from Michael Kamen’s Die Hard score and at other points channeling John Williams’ music from Home Alone.
What Doesn’t: The tone of Violent Night is all over the place. Some parts of this movie play farcical and others are deadly serious. The domestic drama is most out of step with the rest of the picture. This family members are almost all horrible people and the film’s late turn toward Christmas cheer comes across false and forced. The tone never quite coheres and so the picture feels disjointed. Violent Night is too long. It’s slow to get going and the story suffers from too much plot with backstories and reversals impeding the dramatic momentum. Violent Night draws inspiration from a number of sources but it borrows a lot from Die Hard and Die Hard 2. This isn’t just homage. The picture lifts whole set pieces, dialogue, and plot twists from those movies.
Bottom Line: Violent Night is a modestly fun romp. It would have benefitted from a more focused story and a more consistent tone but Violent Night satisfactorily offers what it advertised: Die Hard with Santa Claus.
Episode: #930 (December 11, 2022)