Die Hard, arguably the greatest action movie of all-time, is undoubtedly a Christmas film. Anyone who argues that it isn’t has clearly never seen Die Hard. And yet still naysayers persist in their ignorance. “It’s not Christmassy enough, it’s too violent, yada-yada-yada”. Bah Humbug to them is all we can say. Does every Christmas movie really have to be so syrupy and schmaltzy? In many ways, Violent Night, a film that sees Santa Claus locked in brutal combat with a bunch of mercenaries on Christmas Eve in order to protect a little girl and her family, feels like an attempt to please both sides of the Die Hard debate. Is Die Hard not Christmassy enough for you? Then stick this in your stocking and shut-up!
Like with Die Hard, Violent Night more than lives up to the promise of its title, as Santa Claus himself sets about decking more than just the Halls! Director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) takes the Christmas angle and proceeds to turn it up to eleven, laying on all the usual yuletide tropes in abundance before demolishing them with a blood encrusted sledgehammer. At oft-times, the film plays out like an overlong Robot Chicken sketch, as Santa (David Harbour) shoots, stabs and smashes his way through each bad guy in gory fashion, delivering over-the-top kills and quips that would feel outlandish in a parody sketch. That it holds together is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
Stretched out to almost two hours, the joke does begin to wear thin pretty quickly. It doesn’t help that the central hostage characters – the wealthy Lightstone family – are largely unlikeable and beyond redemption (though newcomer Leah Brady as Trudy Lightstone is a delightful counterpoint to their unpleasantness). Nor does it help that the villains are largely one-note (despite the best efforts of John Leguizamo as their leader, Scrooge). And yet, it just about works thanks to the excellent action scenes and far-out carnage that is littered throughout the film. One inspired moment in particular beautifully sends up the Home Alone franchise (though the end results are far gorier than a Kevin McCallister trap could ever have achieved), whilst a later climactic sequence involving a chimney is pure unhinged genius on the part of the screenwriters. Other material is a bit more hit and miss though – some jokes are too forced and some are too tired from overuse in other films of this nature. However the cast are hilarious throughout, and in their capable hands many of the one-liners and gags still hit the target like a throwing knife to the head.
Gags aside, a large part of the charm is born out of the simple pleasure of watching David Harbour having the time of his life. Decked out in full Santa regalia and going mano-a-mano with thug after thug in brutal, bloody fashion, the man is clearly relishing the role, his tongue lodged so hard in his cheek that it might well puncture it. It’s hardly a stretch for the actor – his Santa is basically Hopper from Stranger Things but in a Christmas hat. But there’s no getting round how badass the man looks in a punch-up, even when dressed in that iconic red and white suit. Coupled with some inventive dispatches, the film certainly achieves what it sets out to achieve, and a large part of this success is down to Harbour.
Violent Night is at its best when it sends up and circumvents the classic Christmas movie schmaltz, laying on tons of gory action and relishing the cynical, hard-bitten attitude that permeates throughout Josh Miller and Pat Casey‘s screenplay. The cast, whilst not saddled with much beyond typical stock characters, go with the flow and embrace the madness to an entertaining degree, and the splatter-filled action sequences are enthralling and inventive. Whilst it may not live up to the lofty heights of similar seasonal action flicks like Die Hard, Violent Night is certainly a film worth putting on your Christmas List.