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'Violent Night' Review

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November 30, 2022
Hunter Friesen
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Do you remember that Saturday Night Live sketch from 2019 where they took the cast of Sesame Street and imagined what they would be like in the world of Todd Philip’s Joker? If you don’t, here’s the link to it. Go ahead and watch it and come back to this review. I won’t mind. 

In that sketch, David Harbour, who was hosting that week, plays the human version of Oscar the Grouch, making fun of Hollywood’s new incessant need for “dark and gritty” adaptations of beloved characters. Seeing a dark version of Sesame Street is fun for a couple of minutes, but we all know there’s only so much that can be done with that ironic concept. I just wish the producers for Violent Night had come to that realization before they decided to make a 100-minute “edgy”  take on Santa Claus.

Of course, along with an overall rise in darkness in blockbuster filmmaking (and society as a whole, but I’m not going down that meme-ified road), a violent Santa movie shouldn’t be all that surprising given the uptick in classical icons being presented their own dark stories filled with blood and crude language. The filmmakers behind the upcoming Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey have already announced their next feature to be Bambi: The Reckoning, which will see Bambi become “a vicious killing machine” after the death of his mother. These Asylum-level adaptations sound, and will probably be pure garbage. But they’ll make a quick buck purely based on the surface-level irony they create, even though you can get the same amount of enjoyment in much less time through the countless amateur YouTube videos out there.

But, even with all the lumps of coal I received from Violent Night, the one thing I can certainly claim as a gift is David Harbour’s committed performance to the bit of playing a Santa that knows how to kick ass and slam down more drinks than Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa. His version of Santa is fed up with the greediness of our modern world, always wanting to get more rather than appreciate what we have.

On one of his several billion stops on Christmas Eve, Santa becomes stranded in the mansion of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo, cast for the chuckle you’ll give after remembering she’s in the MUCH better National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). The Lightstone family is being held hostage by a terrorist group led by Scrooge (John Leguizamo) who wishes to rob Gertrude of the $300 million in cash in her vault. Santa must become the John McClane of this story, using a bit of Christmas magic to punish those that are on the naughty list.

Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola has already become accustomed to this unique subgenre where subversion of initial expectations is the selling point. His two Dead Snow films saw a group of young adults fight a recently risen division of Nazi zombies, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter had the fairytale twins do a lot more damage than just stuffing witches in ovens. 

Even if he was the right person for the job, Wirkola can’t find anything interesting about this concept other than just seeing Santa beat some goons to a bloody (and snowy) pulp. The first action scene is funny enough, especially with it nearly all taking place in one extended take, showcasing Santa’s inexperience at this sort of thing. But subsequent set pieces leave a lot to be desired, often taking place in dim lighting and rapidly edited to a jolly holiday tune.

And writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller think that there's a direct correlation between the number of curse words in your movie and how funny it is. There’s also an extreme overabundance of Christmas puns and wordplay, almost rivaling Batman & Robin for levels of groan-worthy dialogue.

I probably come across as a Grinch with this review, but Violent Night did nothing to bring me yuletide cheer. It desperately wants to be the Christmas movie your weird uncle tells the whole family about at dinner but does nothing to achieve that beyond doing the bare minimum that we expect. Ho ho... no.

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