Director Tommy Wirkola
Screenplay Pat Casey, Josh Miller
Starring David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, Leah Brady, Beverly D’Angelo

In the list of movies with Santa Claus being an ass-kicker, this has to be near the top. Violent Night sees a Santa (Harbour) weary with the lack of believing but trudging on through another holiday. Meanwhile, the very rich and corrupted Lightstone house that he is about to visit has been taken over by terrorist thieves led by John Leguizamo. The Lightstone family has one little girl named Trudy (Brady) who has just recently watched Home Alone and also believes in Santa Claus. The combination might be enough to even the odds.

I have traditionally stayed away from films involving Santa as a violent force. Most of them seem to have him as more a murderer than anything. Let’s say I am in no way an expert in Christmas horror. Even so, it is possible to say I know what entertains this viewer. Violent Night, from the producers of John Wick, is as much fun as anyone can expect to have with Christmas carnage.

It helps that two of the principals, Claus and Trudy, are beyond the stereo type of a drunken old formerly jolly fat man and the girl who would not stop believing. There is an element of practicality in the midst of the fighting, killing and maiming that helps propel the violence beyond gore. Very wisely, we’re given hints on Santa’s previous existance as a killer and maurader some 1100 years prior to this night. We are not given the whole back story and this prevents any of it from becoming trite.

The progression from suprised reveal to eventual heroic figure for Harbour is done with nuance one may not expect from the director of Dead Snow parts I and II, but I think some of this can be attributed to the lead’s humble approach to the material. He doesn’t begin the resistance to the house being over taken like some massive hero who has been ever ready to kick ass for a millenia. Rather, he gets taken down several pegs right away for fights that might be over more quickly in a lesser film.

The Lightstones, for their part, are a mixed bag. They are more than a little like The Righteous Gemstones (including a sister Patterson who is literally the same in the HBO show). They seem irredeemable, yet also ultimately likable, exept for the actor husband Morgan Steele (Gigandet) who is just the former.

The terrorists, outside of Leguizamo, seem like tertiary characters from the Die Hard series, with the propensity to say more stupid things before they die. Although most people finding out they are dying at the hand of a mythical figure don’t usually have genius ideas before they succumb to their fate.

Brady is one of the brighter spots to Violent Night. It’s a tough draw to find such a resilient and faithful kid at the center of such a gruesome holiday movie, but Trudy is certainly an enjoyable and a very believable kid. Her talks with Claus over a walkie talkie give the feeling of Die Hard with John McClane and Al, but have enough a difference from that film as to feel fresh. Her take on Home Alone almost make that film feel like a classic like it never had before.

Violent Night won’t be for everyone. That much is assured. If you’ve ever wanted to see a combination of Home Alone, Miracle on 42nd Street and Die Hard without leaning too far into any of these, this is your film. For me, this one will be a staple for years to come.

(**** out of *****)

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