There has been plenty of digital ink spilled that Violent Night is both Die Hard and Home Alone with Santa Clause (David Harbour) being the one dispensing as much gratuitous violence as the 110 minute run time can handle. And while, on some level this could be accurate, it’s far more accurate to suggest that Violent Night continues on the 87 Eleven trope started by John Wick and buoyed by Nobody; the broken middle aged man with a history of incredible violence finally able to unleash the demon within, caged long ago. And it works a treat.
Harbour is pitch perfectly cast as the drunkard and burnt out Clause. A man who has seen too many years and is at the end of his tether as the jolly red gift giver, he’s now full of bitterness (and alcohol) about the state of the world, and the children who inhabit it. Referring to them as “junkies” who want nothing more than the next present, and feeling that greed has become the rotten core of all things Christmas, our big, bearded boy decides that this year will be his last hurrah. That is until a group of yuletide-nicknamed mercs crash the vacuous party of the Lightstones, headed by cold hearted matriarch, Gertrude. Finding himself in the middle of the bullet ballet, Clause is forced to dig deep to save the wealthy family, thanks to the encouragement of one of the children, Trudy (Leah Brady), one of the few who still believes in the big guy.
87North Productions have essentially become the Blumhouse of American action cinema. Delivering taut, effective actioners, they’ve managed to dial in a style of solid filmmaking that is both ridiculously entertaining and rather profitable. And Violent Night is no exception to that. Echoing the same themes of the pent-up angry man looking to release the devil within, it’s a film that takes its time setting up the emotional stakes before barrelling through, all guns blazing and fists flying. It might be one of the more violent and gorier entries in the 87 line up, thanks to director Tommy Wirkola’s vicious sensibilities. Wirkola is no stranger to blood-stained ice, being at the helm of the infamous Nazi zombie series Dead Snow, and he flexes his outrageous movie kill muscles, answering the question of what would happen if Home Alone was rated R.
But Violent Night fails or succeeds on its Santa, and outside of Stranger Things, it’s one of the few vehicles that allows Harbour to truly shine. There is a beautiful sweetness to the guy, a kind of brawler care bear, the type of man who could punch through walls and give the best hugs imaginable. And it’s this internal contradiction that is used so effectively. At once belligerent and cowardly, turned completely selfless and rampaging, Harbour balances that meek sweetness with brute force so effortlessly that he has inadvertently leap frogged over the Momoas of the world to become the next natural step in the evolution of action heroes. And it’s a welcome turn.
I’ve often felt that Christmas films have to work harder in order to become something that viewers will want to build their own traditions around. Die Hard, Home Alone and The Long Kiss Goodnight all have that Chrissy entertainment factor that makes one want to return to it year after year. By being so unapologetic, vicious and a touch sardonic, Violent Night can easily cement itself as the next film in the Christmas Eve movie marathon. Just make sure the kids have gone to bed first.