Violent night, holy night.
Every now and then a film comes around with the perfect ensemble cast, and Violent Night is definitely one of those films. Directed by Tommy Wirkola of Dead Snow and Hansel and Gretel fame, Violent Night released in December to a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd and a decent $76 million box office response. It’s not too often you see a Santa gorefest where Santa doesn’t inexplicably become one of the antagonists or is a demon or something, but we are in a new era of society and anything can happen. Almost unsurprisingly this movie was written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, both of whom you may recognize from the Sonic the Hedgehog movies. So we know this movie is in good hands.
Violent Night stars David Harbour as Santa Claus, and we’re going with the modern movie Santa by which I mean the nihilistic drunk who is fed up with the modern world with its naughty children and shameless consumerism and considering hanging up his jacket for good. He finds himself trapped in a big mansion that comes under attack by a group of mercenaries who kidnap the rich owner and her family and hold them for ransom. Can Santa save the day? I’m sure he can, this is his movie after all.
Meanwhile the family is comprised of Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell), father and estranged husband of Linda (Alexis Louder) whose daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) is really the main co-star of the film. Trudy just wants her parents to get back together for Christmas and she’s willing to bet her faith in Santa to accomplish that goal. Edi Patterson plays Jason’s sister Alva with her idiot manmeat wannabe actor boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet) and their idiot streamer son Bert (Alexander Elliot). Short for Bertrude. I’m not kidding.
I’m actually happy to see Brendan Fletcher here as Krampus (code name), who does a fantastic job as playing something of the loose cannon psychopath in the group of mercs. You’ll recognize Fletcher if you’ve seen Uwe Boll’s old slate of movies because he’s in virtually all of them in some fashion. He hams up his performance and really steals the show whenever he has time to talk. Beverly D’Angelo has graduated from the wholesome mom of the National Lampoon movies to the cold heartless old bitch mother trope who abused her children and amassed a vast fortune via a life of screwing people over.
There are a number of side actors playing the mercenaries and I can’t think of a single loose thread among the bunch. Each one gets their own moment to shine. And then of course there is Scrooge played by John Leguizamo. I love John Leguizamo in movies, even if I’m sick of hearing him try to shove himself into the public spotlight by virtue signaling race issues he clearly doesn’t actually care about. He is undeniably a talented actor and brings that charm as the main villain of this story.
Violent Night is a prime example of how it’s easy to look past some flaws if the movie overall has charm. Things that would make a bad movie feel even worse. Trudy is the sweet, perfect, innocent girl who would never intentionally do any wrong and while that type of character might be grating and boring if the child actor is bad (see Freddie Highmore in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Leah Brady is adorable and her sweetness feels genuine.
The fact that the movie deliberately references Home Alone multiple times before having a Home Alone sequence works because it creates its own traps and subverts the audience’s expectations. Santa’s multiple references to not really understanding how Christmas magic works also landed when it could have just as easily been a cringey line under the wrong timing. We even get an origin story for Santa, which again could have gone horribly with the wrong actors and writing.
Ultimately Violent Night’s production is like the Ocean’s Eleven of making a movie, the studio went out and meticulously found the exact right people to play their roles and do their jobs. It’s no surprise that the writers behind Sonic the Hedgehog were able to create a well-written film with charming characters. Even the characters you’re supposed to hate like Bert and Morgan are annoying in a way that contributes to the film rather than degrades it. I don’t think anyone would call this a slasher film, but it has all the creative and interesting deaths of a slasher film. Yes, someone gets stabbed with a sharpened candy cane.
One thing I like about Peacock’s ad-tier is that with movies the service loads three minutes of ads at the front and then never bothers you again throughout the movie. Honestly I’ll take the couple bucks savings every month for that tradeoff.