Violent Night review: An irreverent, witty and brutal action fantasy
David Harbour's brand of gnarly world-weariness is just the ticket as he slips into Santa's iconic red suit.
“David Harbour is Santa Claus” is just one of the taglines for this irreverent, witty and, yes, violent action fantasy.
The Stranger Things star is not the first actor you would consider to play the world’s nicest gift-giver, but his patented brand of gnarly world-weariness – seen to terrific effect in the hit Netflix show and in 2021’s Black Widow as a gone-to-seed Russian super-soldier – is just the ticket here.
Indeed, Harbour’s Santa is introduced drowning his disillusionment in a Bristol pub on Christmas Eve (“this planet runs on greed”), so don’t expect the genial figure from Miracle on 34th Street and hundreds of other movies. Think Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa.
Meanwhile, in the States, preparations are underway for a (dysfunctional) family Christmas at the gated-estate of mean, moneyed matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo, at her gravel-voiced, acid-tongued best).
In attendance are elder son Jason, his estranged wife Linda and their Santa-loving daughter Trudy (cute but charming Leah Brady) along with Jason's snarky sister, her equally snarky son and her lunkhead film-star fiancé (Cam Gigandet). However, the festivities are gate-crashed by murderous mercenaries out to rob Gertrude of a secret stash of cash.
“Welcome to your worst Christmas ever,” declares John Leguizamo’s no-nonsense baddie Scrooge (aptly named), and it looks like it will be for the Lightstone clan until our not-so-jolly hero emerges from a chimney to reward Trudy for making his Nice List.
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Of course, Scrooge and his crew of sadistic killers are all Naughty List types, paving the way for a breathlessly entertaining and increasingly bloody battle of wits that unfurls all around the mazy mansion.
Harbour’s transformation from grumpy drunk to badass Santa, who can turn festive paraphernalia (fairy lights, Christmas Star, candy cane, ice skates) into deadly weapons, must ensure an action-movie future.
Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola has form for blending mayhem and gallows humour. The cult horror Dead Snow (2009) and its 2014 sequel about Nazi zombies rampaging around his homeland are a tongue-in-cheek hoot.
Here, Home Alone and the first two Die Hards inform Wirkola’s Christmas cracker, although Trudy’s imitation of the former’s signature booby-traps have more terminal consequences than anything Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern endured.
But these wry call-backs are only part of the entertainment, with flashbacks to Santa’s murky pre-sainthood past introducing a redemptive air to his rescue mission. Wirkola delivers a fast-moving, laugh-out-loud romp that is all his own, sustained by a quickfire script and Harbour’s big, bold and ultimately heart-warming performance.
Violent Night is released in UK cinemas on Friday 2nd December 2022. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide, or visit our dedicated Film hub for all the latest news.