Violent Night review: David Harbour’s Santa Claus action flick is kind of a mess

The pitch for the killer-santa claus action comedy violent night was probably amazing. The latest addition to the “dark and transgressive Christmas movie” canon combines the subgenre’s greatest hits: it’s essentially die hard meets Alone at homecombined with some of the eat the rich satire that’s dominating cinema right now with movies like triangle of sadness, The menuand Glass Onion. And then, of course, there’s the inviting angle of stranger things star David Harbor as a drunk Santa Claus. Add Viking flashbacks, exploding torsos, Beverly D’Angelo, a needle drop from Bryan Adams, and a script from the writing team behind the 2020 airy sonic the hedgehog, and you have what, on paper, probably looked like the greatest R-rated Christmas movie of all time. But it is precisely this emphasis on intelligence rather than consistency that makes violent night so lukewarm.

A part of violent nightThe sequences fulfill the promise of the premise. An opening sequence sets the stage for a film very different from the one we’re actually left with: Santa Claus (Harbour) – not a delusional suitor, but the myth-man himself – sits in a bar on the train to drink horizontally. The magic is gone, he moaned to the bartender. Kids these days are just as greedy and cynical as their parents. All they do is “want, crave, consume”. He drinks his beer and leaves through a side door. The bartender follows him shouting that the door goes to the roof and that customers shouldn’t be up there. Once upstairs, she sees Santa take off in his sleigh, and for a moment, her eyes widen. She believes in magic again – until she gets drenched in Santa’s vomit.

Photo: Universal Pictures

It’s the only time when violent nightThe cynical and starry threads of successfully merge. For most of the film, the two are deployed lazily. Whenever writers and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters director Tommy Wirkola needs to step out of whatever narrative corner they’ve painted themselves into, they soap up on serious evocations of Christmas magic. Between these moments, the withering sarcasm establishes an undeserved sense of superiority. Much of the movie’s affected jitters are directed at the Lightstones, the clan of über-wealthy assholes (and a relatively normal guy, as an audience always needs a surrogate) who gather for a dysfunctional Christmas celebration that’s little long after the cold, watered-down opening of the film.

Matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (D’Angelo) is something of a billionaire power broker – the exact nature of her job and wealth remains unclear, but it’s clear she’s not someone to fuck with . Gertrude’s sour parenting style warped her children, especially her daughter Alva (Edi Patterson, reprising her character from Virtuous Gemstones, up to the similar surname). Alva desperately seeks validation her mother can never provide, and her budding boyfriend Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet) and influencer son Bert (Alexander Elliot) are extensions of her own needy ego. By comparison, Lightstone’s son Jason (Alex Hassell) and young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) are remarkably well-adjusted, but that may be due to the influence of Trudy’s mother, Linda (Alexis Louder).

On Christmas Eve, the Lightstone family is taken hostage by a gang of career criminals led by the Hans Gruber of the play, a vicious, sharp-tongued villain named Scrooge (John Leguizamo). The crooks’ stated goal is to steal $300 million in cash from the Lightstone family safe. What if a few rich morons die in the process? Never mind. The movie doesn’t do a very good job of explaining why audiences should care whether the protagonists survive the night – it’s a mean-spirited movie all around, so bringing up basic human dignity is a bit of a cheat. But whether or not they deserve to be saved, violent night gives the Lightstones their very own John McClane: Santa Claus, who is also trapped in the Lightstone Mansion after falling asleep drunk in a massage chair amid a cookie binge.

Scrooge (John Leguizamo) leans menacingly over Santa Claus (David Harbour), who is tied to a chair with a garland of white Christmas lights on, in Violent Night

Photo: Universal Pictures

But Santa Claus isn’t much of a character to build a movie on, or at least Harbor’s version of him isn’t. Long portions of the film are devoted to Harbor wandering the estate, or pouring out his heart on young Trudy through the walkie-talkie her father gave her at the start of the film. (How Santa got the other radio is one of those “Uhhhh, Magic?” moments, or maybe an editing issue.) The more time the movie spends with Santa, the less his motivations make sense. And the audience has a lot of time to think about these things – violent night slows down halfway through, becoming too talkative and serious for the script to handle.

The only time Harbor really clicks in the role is when he turns Santa Claus into a WWE Christmas character, sneaking up behind bad guys with a mean smile on his face, growling stunt doubles, and having surgery with him. a sewing kit. Halfway through, a flashback to a north manA style sequence reveals that Santa Claus was a Viking warrior named Nicomond the Red, whose propensity for cranial violence is conveniently triggered by the frightening circumstances of that particular Christmas Eve. It’s a fun idea, so it’s a real shame that the live action in violent night is so weak. It’s part choreography and part sound effects, but either way, the result is like listening to music on a stereo with a broken speaker. By comparison, the horror splatter effects are juicy and satisfying, another inconsistency in this blurry film.

Scrooge (John Leguizamo) grimaces and fires an automatic rifle into the air with a huge muzzle flash in what looks like a scene from Scarface, but it's actually from Violent Night

Photo: Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

violent night works best when capturing the distorted sensibilities of early ’90s Chris Columbus movies, especially Alone at home. It’s been pointed out so often that it hardly needs to be said that the events of this movie are actually horribly traumatic and violent, and that Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister is a pint-sized sociopath. Little Trudy Lightstone also has a sadistic streak in her, and the movie’s craziest scenes are played out with an over-the-top sense of joy that actually creates a sense of giggling discomfort. The difference here is that these moments are designed on purpose. The movie has fun throwing sarcastic one-liners and outrageous bloodshed at the audience, but overall, violent nightThe big red bag of self-aware tricks is overloaded.

violent night opens in theaters on December 2.

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