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It’s easy to see the influences that “Violent Night” wears on its sleeve. The splatter core holiday thriller has finally hit movie theaters after months of highly anticipated promotional material promising a throwback, grindhouse experience that cinemas across the country are dying to have screening in their auditoriums. There’s one part simple-minded Tarantino, one part Deadpool, and one part “You’re Next”-style home invasion. As you’d imagine, it’s a bonkers thrill-ride, even if it’s uneven and incongruent between its two halves.
And “Violent Night” isn’t afraid to dip its toes into a handful of separate storylines, even if they don’t tie in neatly by the third act. It juggles a character list of nearly a dozen faces that share screen time after David Harbour’s tremendous portrayal of a drunken, aggressively blunt Santa Claus. Many of them riff on character tropes heavily used in genre fare in the past, most notably Leah Brady’s Trudy Lightstone, who gets many of her witty set pieces from Kevin McCallister’s antics in “Home Alone.”
When Trudy and the rest of her over-the-top wealthy Lightstone family gather for Christmas at her grandmother’s lavish compound, a team of mercenaries hold them hostage only to come face-to-face with Santa Claus himself. Soon, they realize that Santa is not one to mess with as he slowly picks them off one by one in an audacious, crowd-pleasing manner.
As the premise suggests, “Violent Night” is schlocky. But not in a bad way – in an old school, grungy way. The film buys into its blood-soaked, unrelenting script early on with expertly choreographed action set pieces and crass dialogue. As mentioned earlier, the influence that films like “Deadpool” have on this film is pretty obvious. It isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in any way, but it does relish in the tropes that it has quite well.
David Harbour may be unrecognizable with his jolly and rugged appearance mixed with his deep grey beard, but the screen presence doesn’t leave his oversaturated body one bit. He carries a film that relies heavily on his characterization in the second half, even if the script isn’t offering up much nuance or meat to chew on as we wait for the next bit of nonstop gonzo violence.
And that may be my biggest complaint of the film. Harbour is trying his best, but there’s fat that could’ve been trimmed in the middle. “Violent Night” settles your appetite with a basement brawl filled with cue balls, a pinball machine, and Christmas ornaments – but it makes you wait quite some time for the next one. The characters outside of Santa aren’t doing anything new, even if they’re played by some pretty accomplished actors and actresses.
Alexis Louder, Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson and John Leguizamo (who’s had a remarkable couple of weeks pairing “Violent Night” with “The Menu”) help round out a cast of notables who all deliver admirable parts even if their lines and opportunities are few and far between. For a film nearly scratching two hours, “Violent Night” doesn’t offer up much beyond its rich and gnarly kills.
And those kills surely deliver in a third act that must be seen in a crowded theater. Some films are better to experience with others and “Violent Night” is absolutely one of them. Each kill tops the last, and every scene is set up so well and so precisely. Director Tommy Wirkola establishes himself as a filmmaker and designer to watch for because, even with its few shortcomings leading into the third act, each key moment in its finale pays off. It isn’t the sharpest film of the year, but it elevates above the mean.
‘Violent Night’ Verdict
“Violent Night” delivers the bloody, hardcore experience that it promised in its marketing. David Harbour leaps off screen as a murderous Santa Claus, and the violence is some of the year’s best for a mainstream release. If possible, see it in a crowd. We’re getting down to the wire in 2022 and there aren’t going to be many more opportunities to see solid fare in theaters. It dips a bit in the middle, but it will win you over by the end.