Written by: Matt Patti | December 1st, 2022
Violent Night (Tommy Wirkola, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s what the songs seem to claim, anyway. The holidays appear very polarizing these days, with some folks yearning for the warmth of the holiday season and others dreading the stress that comes with it. Just like the December festivities, Christmas movies are largely hit or miss. You have the classics that everyone revisits each year, but some hold up less and less as time goes on. Then you have a slew of new Christmas films that show up every season. However, “new” might not be the best word to use, as so many of them blend together in a blur, specifically the cheesy, feel-good Hallmark-style ones. Thankfully, director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) offers a fresh, new experience in Violent Night. He takes a sizeable risk by combining humor and heartwarming Christmas cheer with bloody violence, but the resulting product is a success.
In Violent Night, the very wealthy Lightstone family and their in-laws gather together at the huge family estate to spend Christmas together. What begins as a not-so-peaceful night, with tensions amongst different family members, only gets worse when thieves lay siege to the mansion. The criminals all adopt popular holiday codenames, led by the cocksure, maniacal “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo, Dark Blood). Meanwhile, a fed-up Santa Claus (David Harbour, Black Widow) is trying to deliver gifts as he always does on Christmas Eve, but is slightly less jolly this year, annoyed at how today’s children are behaving. When Santa gets to the Lightstone’s house, he gets caught in the middle of the break-in. At first not wanting to get involved, Mr. Claus soon finds himself fighting the thieves and helping to protect the family. But can Santa Claus really take on a large group of armed robbers all by himself?
Violent Night is one of the most unique Christmas films I’ve ever seen. I applaud director Wirkola and writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller for their impressive work and risk-taking. Violent Night successfully mixes together comedy, cheerful holiday moments, brutal fight sequences, and gore into a winning recipe of a very fun, enthralling film. I do worry about just what kind of audience this film is aiming to bring in, as its R rating is obviously not suited for families, which is no doubt many Christmas movies’ main target audience, and I wonder how many adults will show up to the theater alone to watch a very violent Santa Claus take on armed robbers. Regardless, I very much enjoyed Violent Night, and perhaps once reviews and word of mouth spread the film can garner some interest.
The plot of Violent Night is certainly compelling, but it’s the performances that dazzle. Harbour is excellent as a slightly depressed, drunken, and oh-so-kick-ass Santa that still has some warm spots in his heart. Leguizamo perfectly plays an energetic, crazed Scrooge who is equal parts hilarious and terrifying. The supporting cast all give exceptional performances as well, specifically Leah Brady as young Trudy Lightstone, a little girl who helps Santa take on the robbers by setting booby traps, Home Alone-style. Also a pleasant surprise is Gertrude Lightstone, played by Beverly D’Angelo (The Good House), the very vulgar Lightstone matriarch. Though Gertrude is very eccentric and intriguing in the first act of the film, her character does fizzle out over the remaining two acts, which is a bit disappointing.
Overall, though, Violent Night expertly intertwines the genres of cheesy Christmas movies, comedies, and crime thrillers into a touching, humorous, and intense film that will not soon be forgotten. I sincerely wish this film all the best luck at the box office. I think an ambitious work like this one deserves a grand audience.