If you are a fan of the movie Scrooged with Bill Murray, you will remember the start has an advert for an up-and-coming TV movie with Lee Majors called The Night The Reindeer Died. The premise was Santa Claus was under attack by terrorists, and only Lee Major could save them. Somebody had obviously thought this was a good idea because they made a feature film out of it, or close enough. Violent Night is every Christmas movie you’ve seen thrown into a tonal misstep that never knows who its audience is.
It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus, angry at how children no longer want the traditional presents, instead money and video games, arrives at the house of Gertrude Lightstone, a wealthy woman holding her traditional holiday celebration in which her children bring their family to pass praise onto her. In the place is Trudy, a little girl who still believes in Santa and is given a walkie-talkie to communicate with him. However, a group of terrorists, led by Scrooge, arrive and hold the family hostage to steal the millions locked in Gertrude’s vaults. What they don’t expect is Santa has them all on his naughty list.
The thought of seeing Santa being a badass and taking out terrorists one by one does sound like a fun one, and the trailer gives you the impression this is going to be a rollercoaster ride of corny Christmas cliches with a dash of 80s action. Do not be fooled. This is a mess that doesn’t know what it wants to be and is a series of disjointed and surprisingly dull ideas.
The film starts in a bar in Bristol (not sure why) and gives you the instant impression you are watching Bad Santa. Dowing drink after drink on Christmas Eve before heading off with his reindeer to dish out presents, the drunk Santa is seen throwing up from his flying sledge over the head of the landlady. So it’s going to be a gross-out comedy. Well, no. We then move into the family drama of the Lightstone’s. Son Jason is taking his family, including estranged wife Linda and daughter Trudy, to the mansion in the middle of nowhere, where Jason’s sister, her social media-obsessed son and her low-rent actor boyfriend want to get money for a movie project. Instantly, we discover that Gertrude is a foul-mouthed, hardheaded woman who refuses to give her money to anyone but herself. So it’s a family drama? Not really.
We then get the home under attack just as Santa arrives, enjoying the booze and gingerbread men left for him. He is soon discovered by one of the terrorists, who he kills and leaves him stranded after the reindeer flee from the shooting. So it’s Die Hard? Maybe. This goes on throughout the film, borrowing from Home Alone, literally, and ends up looking like the kind of sloppy Christmas movies made by Hallmark. It even steals from Die Hard 2!
What makes this such a disappointment is that the trailer makes it look like a real laugh, but the laughs are few and far between and are just a succession of violent sequences where anything remotely sharp is used terribly, from knives to fire pokers, candy canes and ice skates. It would be okay if the action scenes were filmed in a remotely exciting way, but some are so hard to follow you really don’t care what happens. You can tell that the filmmakers wanted to make a new Die Hard, but it doesn’t even come close to that action masterpiece.
The performances are fine, with John Leguizamo doing his best Hans Gruber as Scrooge, the leader of this team of expert terrorists. He is villainous without really giving us anything new, which is a shame, as Leguizamo is usually very reliable in delivering. Thankfully, David Harbour saves the movie as Santa. His gruff, fed-up character has enough vim to keep the interest, and he becomes almost vulnerable after the attacks and not having his magic to save him. One neat touch shows us his backstory, but this is short-lived, and another violent attack comes along.
Violent Night could have been a blast if there wasn’t so much borrowing from other sources and if the tongue was rammed further in the cheek. Instead, it’s a film that becomes boring quite quickly, and with Harbour, it would have been one of the worst films of the year. See this and have yourself a very disappointing Christmas.
2 out of 5
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Beverly D’Angelo, Cam Gigandet, Edi Patterson, Leah Brady
Written by: Pat Casey and Josh Miller
Running Time: 112 mins
Release date: 2nd December 2022