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February 2023

Violent Night

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: Universal Pictures
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2022


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Movie Review - 'Violent Night'

by Adam Pavlacka on Dec. 2, 2022 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

When a group of mercenaries attack the estate of a wealthy family, Santa Claus must step in to save the day (and Christmas).

What if Santa were real? And what if he were disillusioned, depressed, and ready to give up on the world until a little girl needed his help? That's the basic premise behind "Violent Night." It's an action film that bites off a bit more than it can chew, but it somehow manages to be a fun romp thanks to an amazingly committed David Harbour.

The premise of "Violent Night" is top-tier, but the execution is rough around the edges. I'd describe it as a B movie with an A-list star. If you go into it expecting "Die Hard," you're going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're happy seeing Santa (Harbour) kick ass with humor and gusto, this is probably right up your alley.

Interestingly enough, most of the characters setup by the producers aren't very sympathetic. That includes the family being held hostage by the terrorists. Rather than being an innocent lot, they're just another corrupt rich family with millions. The exceptions here are Santa and Trudy (Leah Brady), the little girl who is an outsider in the family and just wants her parents to love each other. Both Harbour and Brady absolutely elevate every scene they are in, especially when interacting with each other.

Trudy's innocence and belief in Santa is what drives him to protect Trudy at all costs, and it kicks off his night of vengeance. That said, Trudy takes out a bad guy or two herself, thanks to some creative booby traps that are a step up from "Home Alone" (a movie she conveniently saw for the first time the night before).

If "Violent Night" had kept its focus on these two characters and the action, it probably would have wider appeal. The movie's Achilles' heel is its attempt to tell a story about greed and consumption in the world. Having a moral is great, but you have to fully commit to make it work. In this case, it just makes the movie feel like two different writers were writing two different movies and they are competing for attention, depending on which scene is being shown.

Less setup, more action is the rule of thumb for movies like this, and it's one the director appears to have overlooked. Even Santa's Viking backstory (which had potential to really go hog wild) ended up mostly as a voiceover flashback with a few imposing shots of Harbour. Thankfully, the latter half of the film focused on action.

The difference between the scenes was obvious at my review screening, as the audience went from quiet during the story setup to being wholly engaged during the action and fighting. Whether it was a simple booby trap that was telegraphed a minute before, or a full-on massacre set to a Christmas tune, the audience was there for it.

Whether you're going to enjoy "Violent Night" really depends on what you expect to get out of it. If you're looking for a finely polished piece of high art, this isn't it. If you're down with some filler scenes in-between bits of violence and revenge, then you're going to have fun.

If there is one thing I took away from "Violent Night," it's that I'll watch anything with David Harbour in it at this point. Put another actor in the starring role here, and "Violent Night" wouldn't be half as good. From the action to the cheesy one-liners, he somehow makes it all work.

I'm not expecting "Violent Night" to be a hit at the box office, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a holiday cult classic.

Score: 7.0/10

"Violent Night" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes. It is showing in standard theaters and IMAX.

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