November 29, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
Culture Representation: Taking place in Greenwich, Connecticut, the comedic action film “Violent Night” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Santa Claus goes on a rampage to rescue a family held hostage during a home invasion.
Culture Audience: “Violent Night” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching dark and violent action comedies that still have a sweet and sentimental side.
People who watch “Violent Night” are better off knowing in advance that it’s not a horror movie, but it’s a dark satire of greed during the Christmas holidays, with Santa Claus as an unhinged vigilante during a home invasion. The violence is over-the-top, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. The tone of “Violent Night” ranges from intentionally goofy to mischievously cruel. “Violent Night,” as the title indicates, was made for viewers who have a high tolerance for bloody gore but want some comedy to balance out the gruesome scenes.
“Violent Night” director Tommy Wirkola’s filmography includes directing the Norwegian-language films “Dead Snow “(2009) “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead” (2014) and “The Trip” (2021), as well as the 2013 English-language film “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” What all of these movies have in common is satire mixed with action, with varying degrees of violence and horror. The “Violent Night” screenplay was written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, who both previously collaborated on writing the screenplays for the live-action/animated films “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (2021), which are both based on the popular video game series. All of this might explain why “Violent Night” often has a cartoonish/video-game quality to it that will either entertain or turn off viewers.
“Violent Night” begins with showing Santa Claus (played by David Harbour) starting his long night of delivering presents on Christmas Eve. This Santa Claus in “Violent Night” (who is destined to be ranked as one of the all-time best “bad Santas” in movies) is not supposed to be someone in costume. This Santa Claus is supposed to be the “real deal.” And to prove it, he’s got a magical scroll listing the “naughty” and “nice” people of the world.
Santa Claus is actually a drunken grouch on this particular Christmas. He’s unhappy because Mrs. Claus has died. He’s also become disillusioned by how avarice and materialistic commercialism have taken over the Christmas holiday season.
Instead of having a bellyful of jolly laughs, this Santa Claus is more likely to have a bellyful of a digested meal that he will vomit on someone while he’s high up in the air on his magical sleigh. And that’s exactly what Santa Claus does early on in the movie, when an unlucky elderly woman goes outside to watch Santa Claus riding through the air, and he spews vomit all over her. It sets the tone for more mayhem that will happen in the movie.
Meanwhile, a fractured family is getting ready to spend time at the mansion of the family’s wealthy matriarch in Greenwich, Connecticut. Jason Lightstone (played by Alex Hassell) and Linda Lightstone (played by Alexis Louder) are separated but have decided to spend Christmas together for the sake of their 7-year-old daughter Trudy Lightstone (played by Leah Brady), who wants her parents to get back together. Jason and Linda’s marital problems have a lot to do with assertive and intelligent Linda wanting mild-mannered and passive Jason to be more independent of his dysfunctional and domineering family.
When Jason, Linda and Trudy arrive at the mansion, it’s easy to see why Linda wants to keep her distance from Jason’s side of the family. Jason’s mother Gertrude Lightstone (played by Beverly D’Angelo), the family’s foul-mouthed matriarch, is rude, crude and the epitome of cold-blooded greed. How vile is Gertrude? Trudy’s real name is Gertrude (she was named after her grandmother), but Trudy prefers to be called Trudy as a nickname. And when Gertrude finds out, she snarls at Trudy about her nickname: “That makes you sound like a whore.”
Jason’s older sister Alva Lightstone (played by Edi Patterson) isn’t much better than Gertrude. As soon as Jason arrives, Alva lets him know she can’t wait for their mother to die, so Alva can take over the family business for herself. And if Jason wants to have any control of the business, Alva is going to put up a fight. Alva also insults Linda by making this insensitive comment to her in a snide tone: “You’ve gained weight.”
Alva is divorced and has a narcissistic son named Bert (played by Alexander Elliot), who is obsessed with filming himself for social media. Alva either ignores Bert or treats him as a nuisance. For this family gathering, Alva has also brought her vain and shallow boyfriend Morgan Steel (played by Cam Gigandet), who’s an actor and filmmaker. It’s mentioned later that Morgan is only with Alva because he wants Gertrude to finance his next movie.
The expected bickering ensues when these family members get together during a formal dinner party where the and the servants dressed as elves are the only ones in attendance. These elves include Krampus (played by Brendan Fletcher), Candy Cane (played by Mitra Suri) and Sugarplum (played by Stephanie Sy), with Krampus as the one who’s the most full of surprises. The Lightstone family feuding gets interrupted by a group of home invaders, led by a wisecracking cynic whose name is listed in the movie’s end credits as Scrooge (played by John Leguizamo), who has been planning this robbery for months.
The servants dressed as elves are really Scrooge’s accomplices. And they are all there to steal the $300 million in cash that Gertrude has in a hidden vault inside the mansion. It’s eventually revealed how and why Gertrude is hiding this fortune. Much later in the movie, while the chaos of this robbery is still happening, a no-nonsense leader named Commander Thorp (played by Mike Dopud) shows up in military fatigues with his team members that are also in matching military outfits. Their roles in the movie are also eventually disclosed.
It just so happens that Santa Claus has arrived at the Thornton mansion just as the home invasion robbery has taken place. His reindeers have taken off with his sleigh, so he’s essentially stranded. When he looks inside the house and sees that the family has been taken hostage, at first he doesn’t want to get involved. But he has a change of heart when he sees the terror on innocent Trudy’s face. And the robbers will soon find out it’s a big mistake to get Santa Claus mad.
“Violent Night” is often a series of slapstick comedy scenes immersed in a lot of viciousness that’s intended to make people laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. The movie (which had its first public showing at New York Comic Con on October 7, 2022) is well-paced and can hold people’s interest, even though the plot is generally simplistic and predictable. Trudy’s Christmas gift from her parents is a walkie talkie that Jason tells her can is “a direct line to Santa.” This walkie talkie is used as a comedic plot device and as a source of hope when things start to look grim for the hostages.
Harbour is perfectly cast as this roguish and boorish Santa Claus, who channels his inner action hero to help this family, even when he bumbles and fumbles along the way. Leguizamo and D’Angelo are also standouts for how Scrooge and Gertrude try to one-up each other in proving who’s the bigger badass. And although the rest of the adult actors in the movie have their memorable moments, Brady’s portrayal of Trudy ends up being the heart of the film.
There will no doubt be comparisons of Trudy Lightstone to the Kevin McCallister character (played by Macauley Culkin) in the 1990 comedy blockbuster “Home Alone,” a movie that’s also about a seemingly harmless kid who becomes resourceful in fighting back against robbers during a Christmas home invasion. It just so happens that Trudy has recently seen “Home Alone,” which inspires her to do certain things in “Violent Night” that will remind people of “Home Alone.” The “Home Alone” references are examples of the type of cheeky comedy in “Violent Night.”
But make no mistake: The grisly brutality in “Violent Night” makes it a far different movie than the relatively squeaky-clean “Home Alone.” The dialogue and jokes in “Violent Night” are sometimes a little stale, but people interested in “Violent Night” aren’t expecting it to be an intellectual film. It’s all about seeing how a grumpy, “loose cannon” Santa Claus acts when he has to fight some people who’ve been very naughty—and how Santa gets some heroic help from a girl who adores him.
Universal Pictures will release “Violent Night” in U.S. cinemas on December 2, 2022.