David Harbour Shines Bright As Deadly Santa Claus In ‘Violent Night’ – Review
Have you ever wondered what things would be like if Santa Claus were a depressed alcoholic who didn’t find his job interesting anymore? Probably not, but Violent Night’s premise is not only interesting, but its execution certainly is a fun ride. David Harbour stars as the man in the red coat, emotionally drained because the magic of Christmas has waned over the years, with children constantly asking for video games during tantrums instead of more meaningful Christmas presents.
Harbour has a lot of fun in the role, playing a version of Santa Claus who is not actually bitter about Christmas. Deep down, the character still believes in whimsical concepts, such as the cookies and milk people leave for him to take. This version also takes fine liquor from the cabinet whenever he drops by to leave a handful of cash inside a lazily hung stocking. He also possesses a set of skills so particular that it would make Liam Neeson chuckle.
Director Tomi Wirkola’s previous action experience can be seen in last year’s The Trip. His preference for quick-paced brutality carries over into Violent Night, with Santa resorting to using weapons such as a bag filled with billiard balls. There is plenty of fun to be had with the character’s violent side since the initial premise is amusing enough, and the action sequences display comedic choreographies. After all, why not shoot some henchman in the groin? If there was a movie with a tone which demanded that type of punchline, it’s this one.
As if the protagonist didn’t make it clear enough, Violent Night is a Christmas movie. There is no need for a heated Die Hard debate to establish if this happens to be an action movie set during the holidays or not. Santa’s adventure is related to his optimism towards what he does, given a new perspective due to the bond he develops with Trudy (Leah Brady), a girl whose family desperately needs a Christmas miracle. The unexpected alliance will make the North (Pole) Man reflect on his motivations.
The merciless gunfights, as well as the Christmas parties and walks through the snow, are accompanied by a delightful original soundtrack by Dominic Lewis. Expressing the tongue-in-cheek sincerity of the bizarre premise through his music, the composer has fun with the story being told, adding a holiday flavour to the loud orchestral melodies typical of big action sequences. The mix of sleighing bells and string instruments makes for a very amusing addition to the already charismatic film.
Wirkola isn’t afraid of letting his project go to disgusting places when it needs to, with some of the violence being gruesome, while the film’s overall tone isn’t necessarily close to gore. He is quick to establish what you can expect from this outing, with the first sequence having a drunk Santa throw up from his flying sleigh, accidentally letting it rain on a bartender who had helped him merely minutes ago. When Wirkola puts his mind to showing this adult-oriented Santa through the pains of a mid-life crisis, he doesn’t hold back on the disgusting aspects that might include.
Of course, since not everything can be made out of candy in this Christmas wonderland, some glaring issues in the movie must be addressed. As ear-raising as the concept can be, it is best only to drag it out once it is off-putting. A good chunk of the second act could have been cut clean from the final runtime, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. When the film starts hinting about heading towards a conclusion, new problems arise, and there are only so many comebacks Santa can make in one night.
A night filled with supporting characters who happen to be pretty forgettable, an unfortunate fact when you consider the protagonist has lived for thousands of years and, outside of his lovely sidekick Trudy, Santa might not remember who any of these characters are when it is time to bring out the Christmas lights again next December (with the only exception being Beverly D’Angelo’s Gertrude). D’Angelo plays Trudy’s grandmother, a matriarch who delivers some of the funniest lines in the film, not because they include foul language but because they are often out-of-context thoughts the character feels the need to express at the worst possible moments.
Violent Night is explosive Christmas fun. Harbour plays a very charming and aggressive Santa Claus, who is ready to drink a glass of scotch and fire a machine gun after checking his naughty or nice list. This action comedy is exactly the type of delight you want to find under the tree this year, with enough snow, reindeer and bloody fights to get you in a bright holiday mood.