Review: Tommy Wirkola's 'Violent Night' is a Modern Christmas Classic
by Manuel São Bento
November 29, 2022
Christmas is known for being a jolly, joyous season filled with precious family time. Socializing around the dinner table loaded with traditional food and beverages, decorating the Christmas tree, or opening presents are common activities during this holiday time, but watching a seasonal film on the couch under a warm blanket is the ultimate form of comfort. A fun animated flick, a marathon viewing of a beloved franchise, or a classic Christmas-themed pick such as Die Hard – yes, I'm on that side of the intense debate – there's no wrong choice. Well, Violent Night is officially a new modern Christmas classic for viewers with gory taste.
Going in to watch, I didn't expect much from a movie starring David Harbour as a temperamental, boozy, gloomy Santa Claus. I hoped for a fun little flick with silly Christmas action, a straightforward story, and basic characters… just with a tad more blood than usual. Violent Night holds a pretty generic narrative and characters with similar development to that of many, many other films. Still, Tommy Wirkola transforms writers Pat Casey & Josh Miller's screenplay into a total blast of pure entertainment by going all out with its R-rating, making this one of the wildest, goriest, most brutal Christmas movies in the history of cinema.
It's easy to fall into using over-the-top reactions when one is surprised by such an unexpectedly satisfying, cathartic viewing. Still, Violent Night is a film I firmly believe will either get a fantastic audience reception during its release and/or eventually gain a cult following. Wirkola brilliantly mixes the best of classics such as the aforementioned Die Hard and Home Alone without ever giving the impression of blatantly copying what these movies did before. On the contrary, the filmmaker pays homage to Christmas classics and plays with well-known genre tropes in the wittiest manner possible.
From hilariously clever song selections – including delightful use of famous Christmas carols – to absolutely incredible stunt work, Violent Night manages to deliver burst-out laughs simultaneously with some of the best practical action seen this year. Add a crazy amount of visible blood and savage killings with diverse objects found around the house, and a serious rollercoaster of emotions, it certainly will provide memorable movie theater experiences. Every filmmaking aspect shares the essential blend of humor and violence, but it's definitely not a film for more sensitive viewers.
That said, Wirkola's Violent Night somehow finds time to stop, take a breath, and hold a couple of genuinely moving, inspirational conversations surrounding broad life topics, such as happiness, love, family, self-confidence, and forgiveness. The writing is immaculate, but Harbour elevates the script overall with a near-perfect performance. In fact, if Harbour isn't the best actor to play this version of Santa Claus, then I don't know what "perfect casting" means anymore.
Some of the other acting displays seem rather off, though. Leah Brady is merely a child actor, so I'm not really bothered by a fairly unconvincing performance on her part. However, the adult cast has some issues in balancing the satirical, almost full on parody tone with the more serious moments, delivering some flat lines or exaggerated expressions. Overall, Violent Night doesn't suffer much from these performances or anything else for that matter. The one-location, anti-heist structure makes everything even more exciting. It's one of those movies I can't wait to see again with friends and family. You should, too.
Violent Night is one of the biggest surprises of the year – instantly becoming a contemporary Christmas classic! David Harbour expertly embodies a shockingly brutal, savage version of Santa Claus that somehow still delivers lovely messages. Fighting sequences feature truly violent practical stunts, taking advantage of the R-rating to provide unmeasurable amounts of gore. Creative use of Christmas songs will leave audiences crying with laughter. A brilliant homage to the seasonal genre classics, it's best enjoyed in a packed theater.