At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Violent Night “2022”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Violent Night “2022”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Christmas Action-Comedy/Stars: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Beverly D’Angelo, Leah Brady, André Eriksen/Runtime: 101 minutes

I think it is safe to say that avid tourists to some of the more potent/unnerving avenues to be found in the realm of movie magic can tell you that any slice of cinema that incorporates a holiday in some way is able immediately able to distinguish itself with Halloween being one of the more noteworthy examples. Yet, besides the aforementioned spooky season, we also see that there is a surprising number of entries in the action and horror genres that take place on or around Christmas of all things. Sure, a few of these slices of cinema don’t operate as much more than just a chance to showcase potent and visceral content and contrast it with the typical whimsicalness found in the holidays, but there are some that do manage to locate novel ways to take their ideas as well as holiday traditions and merge them together into truly distinct stories. Perhaps the latest example of the latter idea in action would be the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today Violent Night. Indeed, here is a quirky, joyful, and yet quite visceral film that manages to take the idea of a lone hero taking on a group of mercenaries who have taken over a place for reasons, but then throws that concept for a holiday curve by having the hero be none other than Santa Claus. Suffice it to say that there might be a few overcooked ideas here, but with the aid of a game cast and decent work behind the camera this is a fun and engaging little cinematic sleigh ride that movie goers over a certain age (16-17) should have no problem embracing.

The plot is as follows: Violent Night gets underway as we are introduced to a family known as the Lightstones. The Lightstones, we quickly learn, are an extremely well-off family who may not get along in even the slightest, but still get together every Christmas Eve as family matriarch’s glamourous estate in Greenwich for some artificial holiday tidings. However, before the false festivities are even able to get underway, we see that the family is terrifyingly besieged by a driven squad of mercenaries led by a ruthless individual calling himself Scrooge. Scrooge, who has been casing the house for some time, is very much aware that there is 300 million in a vault on the premises and has made it so every person working on the premises is in his employ. Yet, for as seemingly foolproof, as Scrooge’s scheme seems to be there is one element he hasn’t exactly counted on. Namely Santa Claus showing up for his once-a-year Christmas visit. Yet, in a bit of irony, we see that Santa isn’t exactly the holly jolly guy he’s usually showcased as being. Rather, this version may have the beard, the red suit, the sleigh, the magic bag of toys, and the eight not-so tiny reindeer, but he also has a bit of a drinking problem and is more than a bit of a grump to say the least due in no small part to how kids nowadays are more about what they get from other rather than what they give others. At the same time though, despite his grumpy ways, we see that Santa hasn’t totally given up hope just yet. Suffice it to say then that, when he receives a distress call of sorts from the only decent family member in the form of a precocious child named Trudy alerting him to the situation, we see ol’ Kris Kringle leap into action to both save the day as well as give the family’s terrorizers the season’s beatings that they so desperately deserve.

Now right off the bat I’m just going to say that for everyone from the most seasoned movie goer (me) to the casual movie lover, it isn’t quite the holidays until we find ourselves engaged in a “friendly discourse” (fierce and combative argument) with at least one other person on what exactly qualifies a slice of cinema as one that fits the sugar cookie mold of being a “Christmas movie” and what doesn’t. Be that as it may be, I can safely that for Violent Night this is definitely one film that should be a part of the latter category since not only does its whole core concept focus specifically on Christmas to say nothing of ol’ Kris Kringle’s nightly odyssey around the planet, but it also is able to incorporate quite a few elements from other iconic holiday cinema (right down to the brilliant casting of Christmas Vacation matriarch Beverly D’Angelo as a vastly different kind of mother here) to help this slice of cinema operate as a genuinely delightful ode to this distinct subgenre of movie magic. Yet what really helps to ensure that this slice of holiday cinema function on the level that it does is that even though it could just coast along on the fact that it does work off a delightfully absurd idea, it also is able to insert a wonderfully astonishing degree of genuine holiday spirit into the mix. This is because not only does the overarching narrative dealing with the family and certain things about them that come to light see certain Hallmark movie components come to play courtesy of how the situation is able to bring two separated parents back together, but the little girl at the heart of the story also contributes courtesy of her consistent and unwavering belief in Santa even when he’s being beaten about both emotionally and (in this case) literally. I also would like to praise this film for the fact that, despite the concept providing quite a few chances for the characters to make some truly outlandish puns, we see that this slice of cinema’s script chose instead to utilize them sparingly which as a result helps them land a heck of a lot better than if they were just part of a seemingly never-ending train of them. In a similar vein we see that, rather than go with the music choices you might think to see in a film like this, film helmer Tommy Wirkola makes the choice to go with songs that people know, but also don’t get enough in the way of playtime to help ante up how energetic and lively this viewing experience turns out to be. Now lest you worry that this film is all candy and no cane, I can promise that is not the case. Sure, it may take a minute, but trust me when I say that this slice of cinema does live up to its title and give us a showdown between Santa and the gang of intruders that is nothing short of gleefully and fiendishly delightful. Indeed, from ornaments to garland, it shouldn’t be that astonishing to see that the people behind the underrated 2021 gem Nobody is able to ensure that audiences are on the edge of their seat with what they give us here. At the same time though, these combat scenes are to some degree hindered by the fact that they either occur in the dead of night or are only being lit by the moon and/or holiday decorations. As a result, it does prove to be quite difficult to comprehend how Santa is dispatching with these people even if there are moments that are fairly well done like a medically on-point ode to Home Alone and one that will make you wince whenever you see a chimney. Suffice it to say that there is skill behind the camera that is definitely respectable, but in a key area where this film is supposed to fly like a reindeer it instead melts a bit like a snowman in a greenhouse.

Of course, there is one area where this slice of cinema definitely soars and that is in regards to the work done by this film’s truly gifted cast. Indeed, not only do they all know exactly what kind of movie they are making, but they all still manage to bring a wonderful degree of both passion and conviction to their respective roles. This starts with David Harbour who is just spot-on in the role of Santa Claus. Indeed, seemingly right from the word go, Harbour manages to show that he has the acting chops to become this iconic character in ways you might be thinking and in ways that I promise will surprise you. Sure, I have no doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t have been difficult for Harbour to choose to embrace the brow-beaten and unorthodox components to this take on Santa who has all but given up on humanity    and then pushed everything else aside. Yet we see that Harbour, with the script in tow, are thankfully not content with that and instead showcase for us that yes this take on Santa might be at his wit’s end, but he also isn’t quite ready to accept that the magic is gone for good and as such brings to the role a geniality as well as charm that is nothing short of impressive. Suffice it to say that this is one heck of a performance and honestly one that I would love to see Harbour get the chance to reprise in another installment albeit with a Mrs. Claus kicking butt and taking no names right alongside him. Now, it should also be noted that this slice of cinema also possesses a collection of fairly good performances from a truly game support cast. This starts with, in the role of Trudy aka the child who brings Santa into this downright insane situation, Miss Leah Brady who does an absolutely wonderful job. Not only at being her own fairly well-written character, but also in operating as a brilliant companion to Harbour’s performance in this that helps him regain his belief in the goodness of people again. Along with that, we also get, in what I have no doubt is an example of fan and nostalgic casting at its finest, a truly fantastic support turn here from Beverly D’Angelo who is a twistedly delight as the gloriously profanity-spewing matriarch of the Griswold ehhh Lightstone clan. Meanwhile we also get just as delightful (albeit a bit on the one-note side at times) efforts here from Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, and Alexander Elliot respectively as the rest of the Lightstone clan who are all, in their own ways, more despicable than the last relative (indeed take note here movie goers there really is only one character in this that could genuinely be seen here as good just for the sake of being good). Of course, as good as a protagonist is for a given slice of cinema, the antagonist should be just as good and this slice of cinema definitely has that. Indeed as the leader of the mercenaries laying siege to the house, we get a truly winning performance here from John Leguizamo who, as par for the course of an actor of his caliber, manages to keep his streak alive of giving truly top-flight support roles. That and by making the choice to be a legit threat rather than a cartoonish and over the top villain, Leguizamo manages to give the narrative in this a genuine sense of stakes to go along with the core idea of “Santa laying a serious beatdown on some seriously bad dudes”.  Suffice it to say that the cast in this slice of cinema all manage to do the best possible work that they can with the material that they have been given here.

All in all have you ever received a potential exciting present on Christmas Eve or Day, tore off the wrapping paper that had been skillfully put on the gift by a giftwrapping extraordinaire, and then found that this present wasn’t quite what you were thinking it would be? Well, I am pleased to say that the slice of cinema that is Violent Night is most assuredly not a cinematic example of that gift in action. Indeed this slice of cinema is one that is very much what you are thinking it is, but then again this isn’t a slice of cinema that needs to be more than one that seems to be dead set on answering the question of just how many Christmas-oriented ideas can be utilized by Santa in beating the snot out of a group of thugs? A concept incidentally that I very much dare you to try your absolute best not to have come to the forefront of your psyche when that one relative of yours is trying your patience for whatever reason or another. Be that as it may be, there are points where it is a bit on the stale side, but if you are someone who would love to see Hopper from Stranger Things as a butt kicking Santa, like their holiday cookies with a tall glass of bourbon, or the holly hung around their home drenched in blood, then I can safely say that Violent Night is most definitely the season’s beating that you will enjoy not only this Christmas, but for Christmases to come. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Violent Night “2022” a solid 3 out of 5.