Christmas Eve. The Lightstone family gathers at the hearth of a millionaire mother (Beverly D’Angelo). Cunning son Jason (Alex Hassell) drags ex-wife Linda (Alexis Loder) and baby Trudy (Leah Brady) to the party. And the tycoon’s caustic daughter Alva (Edie Patterson) is already teaching loser boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) and lazy son Bert (Alexander Elliot) to smile helpfully at their grandmother. Both heirs crave old Gertrude’s heart and money, but their cunning plan fails miserably: the house is seized by armed robbers led by Scrooge (John Leguizamo). Fortunately, in the midst of the attack, the real Santa Claus (David Harbor) unexpectedly appears on the roof of the mansion: he became disillusioned with the children and the world around him, went into a binge and is now happy to take out all the accumulated anger on the unfortunate criminals.
Violent Night is a one-man movie. The pot-bellied, bearded and obviously drunk character of Klaus owes a lot to David Harbour: if a Hollywood idol with a polished appearance had appeared in Santa’s place, all the magic would have flown out the chimney. The Stranger Things star surprisingly combines two opposite types at once – a smiling teddy bear and a maniac from an alley. His hero prefers alcohol to milk, knows how to sew up stab wounds with a needle and break legs with sledgehammers, and even without shame vomits from a Christmas harness on the heads of harmless passers-by. However, from this Lapland big man you can expect not only cuffs, but also gifts. Thanks to Harbor’s acting range (as well as the writers’ attempts to make the movie unnecessarily moralistic), the film itself constantly leans into sentimentality.
If “Violent Night” were directed by Taika Waititi – a great master of combining cynical humor with family drama – this trick would work flawlessly. But Dead Snow director Timo Wirkola, unfortunately or fortunately, has been tearing off limbs and spattering blood throughout his career in low-budget exploitation and B-movies. So any attempt by a Harbor action movie to be not only black, but also a Christmas comedy burns up like second-hand garlands. And they cause genuine irritation in the viewer: family confessions by the fireplace and memories of a difficult childhood (it turns out that robbers also cry) sound so commercialized that all the trash frenzy depreciates in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately, at some point, “Violent Night” remembers why everyone gathered at the screens, and stops pretending to be a holiday film. Christmas toys are used (Santa, as a rule, puts them in the eyes of ill-wishers), wrapping paper (and closes bleeding wounds with it) and garlands-strangleholds. The film is starting to look more and more like an infernal version of Home Alone: it’s not for nothing that little Trudy confesses her love for the classics with Macaulay Culkin and fends off enemies with bowling balls thrown from the attic and nails driven into the stairs. True, Timo Wirkola himself treats the legacy of Chris Columbus in his own way: from seemingly harmless children’s traps, blood flows no less than from the righteous blows of Santa’s sledgehammer. No wonder one of the producers of “Violent Night” was David Leitch – the action choreography here is more intriguing than the shooting and even more so the plot.
Violent Night could be the new Gremlins-esque anti-Christmas classic, but Santa Claus-clad Harbor can only dutifully plod along in Gizmo’s tiny shadow. Folk love needs something more than comic book violence and a couple of toilet jokes mixed with annoying morals. However, the gory film-gift, reeking of fumes and dried vomit, is still worth ten refined holiday dramas – it is better to spend the anticipation of Christmas with him than with another pesky Dickens adaptation.