“Violent Night” is what happens when you cross “Bad Santa” with “Die Hard,” and the end result is pretty much as awesome as it sounds. This violent, edgy, and sarcastic action flick is so much fun that it deserves a seat at the holiday movie table, and it’s one that is right on the cusp of instant cult classic status. Director Tommy Wirkola blends traditional Christmas movie tropes with wicked bursts of violent glee, making this the anti-Hallmark yuletide classic you’ve been waiting for.
Delivering toys to kids every year is a tough job, and Santa (David Harbour) is burned out. He prefers bourbon instead of milk with his cookies, and the magic is gone after so many years of the same old routine. Scruffy old Saint Nick finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when a team of mercenaries break into the wealthy Lightstone family’s compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage (including Trudy (Leah Brady), a little girl who is on Santa’s “nice” list). Armed with safecracking technology and an armory of weapons, the bad guys arrive with an ironclad plan for their high stakes robbery and attack. There’s just one thing they didn’t count on: finding Santa Claus in the house, too. In order to save Christmas and the family, he’s ready to put up a fight.
It’s a cheeky premise that works perfectly as a dark comedy, and Wirkola successfully blends conventional holiday movie clichés with straight-up action scenes. In the story, it’s accepted that Santa is real, which lends a bit of Christmas magic and cheer to the film. There are also homages to other holiday classics like “Home Alone,” which is so uproariously executed that I had to wipe tears from my eyes from laughing so heartily.
The supporting cast all have a natural talent for comedy, (including Edi Patterson, Alex Hassell, John Leguizamo, and Beverly D’Angelo), and Pat Casey and Josh Miller‘s screenplay has just the right amount of snark and whimsy. This really is Harbour’s star vehicle, though, and he fully embraces the role. He’s what makes the movie such a pleasure to watch, as he delivers corny catchphrases like “time for some season’s beatings” and convincingly opens up a can of festive whoop-ass on the villains. The movie is silly, but never stupid.
The film earns its R-rating with plenty of violent, bloody, creative kills that utilize everything from Christmas tree decorations to ice skates. The fight choreography isn’t the best, but the methods that Santa uses to execute the bad guys are inventive and often hilarious. Some of the action scenes are so dimly lit that it’s frustrating not being able to clearly see what’s happening onscreen, but the film is just so much fun that none of this matters.
It may be important to offer a reminder that “Violent Night” is not a family-friendly movie (the title alone should be the first major clue). It’s packed with violence, naughty language, and hijinks that won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who go in knowing what to expect, you won’t be disappointed because this movie is everything you are hoping it will be.