Pat Casey and Josh Miller, writers of Sonic the Hedgehog, team up again for an anti-Christmas fight-fest that occasionally nods at previous holiday cult classics. Director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) takes this script and runs with it like a pair of freshly sharpened scissors, creating a feature that is reindeer leaps better than it should be.
Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder), and their daughter Trudy (Leah Bradley) are traveling to the Lightstone estate at Jason’s request for a final Christmas together as a family. Meanwhile, Santa Claus (David Harbour) is becoming increasingly disgruntled about Christmas since everyone asks for cash or video games and doesn’t bother to leave homemade cookies any longer. These two events converge when Christmas-named thieves, led by a man who calls himself Scrooge (John Leguizamo), invade the estate, demanding 300 million dollars from the family vault. The merging happens because Trudy still believes in Santa Claus and calls him on a walkie-talkie, drawing him into the decked-out halls. Whether by chance or through Christmas magic, Santa answers, and the thieves on the naughty list better watch out – because Santa Claus is going to town.
Casey and Miller have a sick sense of what is funny, and because of this, some audiences may be turned off by certain aspects of this film – namely, it living up to its title. It certainly isn’t something to take children to, with its excessive and sometimes gratuitous violence. But this doesn’t make it a bad film. Audiences who like Home Alone and Die Hard will spontaneously laugh or cheer at inappropriate moments. This doesn’t mean it is cut and dried. Small elements of backstory will leave the audience wanting more. The script does occasionally drag, and there are times that it seems like parts of the story have the least amount of explanation possible to get to the action. But once the action does get going, it happens at lightning speed. Generally, Leguizamo holds the screen whenever he is on it. Harbour takes the camera’s attention this time, possibly playing the best hard-nosed Santa ever imagined.
There are a lot of nods to other well-known, less than “wholesome” Christmas films throughout, probably more than anyone could see in one viewing. This is partly because of the placement, partly because of the action, and partly because of the soundtrack – a selection of songs that fit the moments perfectly, and often with a skewed twist. The effects are gruesome but often exaggerated, reminding the audience that this is played for laughs rather than fright or disgust.
Violent Night will never earn a place among films like It’s a Wonderful Life, but it stands up to nearly every sideways Santa film ever made. But as an alternative to sentimental holiday films, this is a fun and entertaining version of the jolly old sleigher.