Film Review: David Harbour and His Hammer Give Christmas Cheer in ‘Violent Night’

Violent Night seems like the most preposterous idea possible that there was no way in hell that it would work. But it does, and the fascinating part about it is how much fun you’ll have by seeing David Harbour play a foul-mouthed, completely ripped, and angry version of Santa Claus, far beyond what Billy Bob Thornton achieved in the Bad Santa movies.

It’s part clichéd Hallmark family Christmas drama (the weakest parts of the movie), part standard actioner, which then morphs into the most realistic version of Home Alone possible. Watching Home Alone, the characters of Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) would likely be dead after being subjected to the horrors of Kevin McAllister’s (Macaulay Culkin) booby traps. And yet, they’re still able to walk as if nothing truly happened aside from light bumps through various body parts.

In Violent Night, the booby traps are a mesh of the first three Home Alone films, finally giving the audience the “realistic” results that Chris Columbus‘ family film did not deliver. And, boy, do the villains get more than a bump in the head. In that regard, Violent Night provides an impeccable body count through elaborate (and gory) action scenes where David Harbour’s Santa Claus saves a family from a group of criminals because their youngest member, Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady), is on the nice list.

The leader, Jimmy “Scrooge” Martinez (John Leguizamo), wants to steal $300 million out of a vault from Gertrude Lightstone’s (Beverly D’Angelo) mansion during her Christmas Eve party with her family. And in an improbable coincidence, Santa arrives to put presents under the tree. He does not want to get involved, but Scrooge’s accomplices force him into battle. It is then revealed that, before taking the mantle of Santa Claus, he was a Viking warrior with a hammer named “Skullcrusher.” So it’s up to him to save the Lightstone family, against all odds, because no one believes that he’s the real Santa, except for Trudy.

The rest is relatively predictable, but it’s still fun to see Harbour kick major ass. Tommy Wirkola, known for helming Dead Snow, directs the actioner. He perfectly understands the kind of campiness this film needs to work and ensures Harbour is as self-aware as possible that he’s playing a version of Santa Claus that most kids will not want to idolize. But Trudy does because she believes he’s the only one who will be able to save them. Harbour has excellent chemistry with Brady, and although the “family” parts are highly reminiscent of the cheesiest Christmas films possible, the acting remains reasonably decent.

D’Angelo and Cam Gigandet, who plays a terrible action film star hoping that Gertrude will finance his latest fake movie, are having tons of fun, while Leguizamo is a menacing enough antagonist. There could’ve been more development on Scrooge’s part, but he is still an exciting and terrifying villain, regardless. Alex Hassell and Alexis Louder play Trudy’s parents and are fine but nowhere near the film’s most compelling characters. Whenever it would cut back to them, the pacing would stop dead in its tracks and turn into a family drama that no one who paid to see David Harbour as Santa Claus cared about.

Because whenever Harbour is on screen and delivers the most spectacular can of whoop-ass possible, buckle up. The action is fun, well-choreographed, and fast-paced. It’s a must-see with a crowd in an IMAX theater. There were many strong reactions at my screening, as bad guys get killed in various, Christmas-themed ways. Wirkola delivers a straightforward yet, compelling action thriller that anyone who wants to have a good time at the movies will enjoy. It remythologizes Santa Claus in a fun way without oversaturating the premise of a Santa delivering a “Violent Night.” Action movie fans have found their new Christmas classic, and that’s good enough for anyone looking for a bit more Christmas cheer this holiday season.

SCORE: ★★★

Violent Night is now playing in theatres.


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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