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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Violent Night: Review

Disillusioned by the commercial cynicism of Christmas, Santa Claus exists as an alcoholic shadow of his former holly-jolly self. Years of naughty list children and non-believing adults have eroded Santa into becoming a grinch of the Christmas season.

While embarking on his supposed last annual present run, Santa suddenly finds himself ensnared in a deadly hostage situation at an elitist family estate. The predicament forces Santa to unleash his fierce warrior aptitude in order to save the day in Violent Night.

Christmas films are commonplace staples of the holiday season. Whether it's the misty-eyed magic of "It's a Wonderful Life" or the comedic hijinks of "A Christmas Story," Christmas serves as a lively canvas for artists to imbue their unique sensibilities on the holiday's well-entrenched sentiments.

With Violent Night, director Tommy Wirkola and his creative team embrace a wholly untraditional approach - conjuring Yuletide cheer in an unabashedly R-rated action/comedy that feels like a forgotten byproduct of the action genre's 1980s glory days. The bold risk results in a devilishly entertaining B-movie romp that still presents an infectious embrace of the Christmas spirit.

Swimming in unconventional waters comes second nature for Wirkola. The Norwegian filmmaker broke out with his Nazi zombie horror film Dead Snow in 2009, utilizing an offbeat concept to provide a campy spectacle full of bullets and bloodshed. He then became entrenched in Hollywood productions, although his efforts with 2013's uneventful Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunter showcased a director compromising his vision under restrictive studio mandates.

Violent Night thankfully features Wirkola's auteur touch in every frame. The director evokes boundless energy in his craft, controlling the camera with technical aplomb as he dreams up a series of violent setpieces. Each clash's creative choreography, ingenious practical effects, and poised camerawork mix brilliantly in forming gleefully chaotic confrontations that maximize the film's limited budget. The use of lingering tracking shots also highlights the exhaustion and physicality behind each grueling brawl.

I appreciate that Wirkola always imbues tongue-in-cheek energy into his films. Instead of shying away from the film's Die Hard meets Home Alone premise, Violent Night embraces its identity as the vulgar stepchild of Christmas' family-friendly image and is made all the better for it. Wirkola and the screenwriting team of Pat Casey and Josh Miller develop a robust comedic voice bursting with crass pratfalls and self-aware energy, including several humorous reimaginings of Santa's well-regarded lore.

The script assembles ingenious avenues for tying in holiday values. The dispirited Santa Claus at the center of Violent Night is burnt out by years of watching Christmas transform into a holiday less about family togetherness and more about commercial excess. Through his heroic crusade, Santa befriends Trudy, an optimistic child who still believes in Santa and the Christmas spirit with an open heart. Her infectious optimism helps Santa and her cynical family members rediscover the purpose of the holiday. The concept is certainly nothing groundbreaking, but Casey and Miller inject enough warmth and sincerity to make Violent Night's narrative approach ring true.

A skilled ensemble cast also delivers the goods. Stranger Things star David Harbour is a master at portraying surly tough guys with a heart of gold. As Santa, Harbour infuses the character's grizzled charms with enough vulnerabilities to make his persona shine onscreen. Likewise, Leah Brady is effective as the good-natured Trudy, while lively supporting performances from Cam Gigandet, Edi Patterson and John Leguizamo as the sinister villain, Scrooge, add some comedic punch to the material.

I had a blast throughout Violent Night. The film offers an amoral and wildly amusing ride for viewers looking for a unique Christmas movie experience.

Violent Night is now playing in theaters.


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