Paul Blart meets John Wick meets Santa Claus: the optimal Christmas story.
If you like John Wick or Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and have been longing for a movie that combines those films whilst imbuing you with a sense of Christmas spirit, then Violent Night will be a guilty pleasure that you will absolutely adore.
When I first sat down for a screening of Violent Night, I was expecting a gimmicky, uninspired Christmas flick that would sedate viewers with an over-the-top action story and nothing much else. Fortunately, my $13 dollar ticket felt like money well-spent on this campy, gruesome and self-aware Christmas film. If you don’t mind the R rating, this movie is a fun time.
In Violent Night, David Harbour plays a haggard-by-time Santa Claus who is a mix of a former highschool football player yearning for his glory years and a bumbling Paul Blart type hero. Santa gets stuck saving a disgustingly rich American family from this film’s version of Scrooge. There are actually more than a few similarities between Paul Blart: Mall Cop and this film, whether it be the trope of getting trapped in a hostage situation rife with unwanted emotional attachments, or an unexpected lesson in family values and an appreciation for the holiday season. Regardless, the film has lots of good going for it.
The film is full of more than enough scenes that will make your dad go “oh yippee, that’s good stuff,” and you go, “oh my gosh I didn’t know I could shut my eyes that tight.” For example, Trudy, one of the main protagonists and a 7-year-old die-hard Santa supporter, employs a much more gory interpretation of Kevin McCallister’s booby traps from the Home Alone franchise. Additionally, if minimal gore and well-timed guffaws are not your cup of tea, you can bring out your inner dad by cheering on Santa as he absolutely ruins a group of mercenaries in a dimly-lit John Wick-esque scene. One of the best parts of the film, in my opinion, features a gory ballet – set to the tune of Bryan Adams’ “Christmas Time” – and Harbour’s man-bun-sporting Santa laying about with a sledgehammer that is wonderfully (and appropriately) dubbed “Skullcrusher.”
The soundtrack is a highlight of the film, as it comedically uses Christmas classics like “Silent Night” by Frank Sinatra and “The 12 Days of Christmas” by Dominic Lewis to create a thematic dissonance that plays up the self-awareness of the film. It also accentuates the unadulterated violence occurring onscreen. Something about sleigh bells ringing and choirs singing attached to the visual of someone getting their Jingle Balls shot off really makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, if not also a little queasy.
Indeed this film has “dad” written all over it. This movie is very self aware; the creators know their target audience, as they utilize set pieces such as seemingly innocuous hockey skates and a snowblower to wreak havoc on the film’s goons. Moreover, in scenes like the one where Santa wraps a gaping wound with wrapping paper and a big red ribbon, there is a clear (and hilarious) juxtaposition of intense battle wounds and Christmas spirit. So even when the big scenes are not there to make you chuckle, there are a few perfectly timed bits to remind you that it is very much a satirical movie.
However, if gore and musical dissonance are not your forte, there is a lot to be appreciated from the supporting cast of characters. Beverly D’Angelo, of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation fame, expertly fulfills the role of mean-spirited Christmastime in-law, whereas Alexis Louder – perhaps best known for her work in 2021 action thriller Copshop – weaves her character into one that is just as motherly and comforting as she is strong and dependable.
The rest of the supporting cast also fill out the movie with the required assortment of dim-witted minions, tactically inclined baddies and money-hungry sociopaths who will excite you as they come face-to-face with the tall, Celtic manifestation of the spirit of Christmas.
This film is, however, not without sin. Louder’s character of Linda has an amazing and shining moment with Alva, her sister-in-law, where they take down a bad-guy in the most girl-boss way possible. But when Linda later has the chance to stand up to her cowardly and insensitive ex-husband, she falters. The girl-boss energy only goes so far in this film, it seems. The story really fumbles Linda’s ending, and I hope someday she gets a redemption arc.
Whether it is the Santa-turned-action-hero story, the music or the funny performances from beloved actors, the film is surely perfect for dads who like to stand four feet away from the TV with their arms crossed while exhaling briskly through their nose at each little goofy moment.
Overall, I’d say that this is a 9/10 movie. I take off 0.5 of a point because they did Linda dirty and another 0.5 because I have spent way too much money buying tickets to see this movie four times because I enjoyed it so much.