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REVIEW: ‘Violent Night’ is a warzone for toxic relatives and a savage Santa

By Jerald Uy Published Dec 02, 2022 5:46 pm

Christmas Eve can be a battleground among kin you have to put up with—and the dark comedy Violent Night chooses that jolly time of the year to blow up sibling rivalry, estranged marriages, and generational traumas in a bloody way. Caught in the crossfire between a privileged clan and murderous thieves is a drunk Santa Claus (David Harbour) stranded by his reindeer, becoming an unlikely witness to a hostage crisis. 

The story revolves around the Lightstone family—foul-mouthed matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D'Angelo) who runs a family corporation, her alcoholic daughter Alva (Edi Patterson), and her son Jason (Alex Hassell). Tagging along with Alva is her influencer-son Bert (Alexander Elliot) and second husband, wannabe actor Morgan (Cam Gigandet). Jason, meanwhile, brings her daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) and ex-wife Linda (Alexis Louder).

At the onset, Violent Night mashes up classic Christmas movies Home Alone (1990) and Die Hard (1988). The only child who believes in Santa Claus in the household takes inspiration from Home Alone’s Kevin’s booby traps to provide support to Santa, a bearded and magical version of John McClane from Die Hard.

David Harbour of Stranger Things fame is a good bait to drive people to theaters to see this movie. Harbour plays a jaded Santa Claus, who is revealed as a mallet-wielding warrior during ancient times. Not much has been said, however, about how he became Santa Claus. The character has a convenient excuse that he does not even know how magic works, which does not do much for the movie’s world-building.

What is remarkable about the movie is the character of Jason, who has grown tired of his overbearing mother and competitive sister. He has decided to leave everything behind to fix his relationship with Linda and focus on their daughter Trudy. Cutting ties with relatives is an admirable move. Yet still, the last act might disappoint those rooting for Jason. We’ll get there.

As the movie title explicitly suggests, it is gruesome, thus may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It showcased creative ways to kill thieves using a Christmas star, Christmas lights, icicles, and even chimneys. Movies have desensitized us with decapitated bodies and smashed skulls—and we all know that these are all props and make-up. So don’t let the holiday motif fool you. This is not an all-ages movie.

But there’s a scene that is bothersome to me: the male villain, aptly nicknamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo) punching an old woman. It feels more real than the visceral bloody scenes that lead me to assess whether gore scenes are meant for us to laugh or to detest any form of violence. In retrospect, the violent act toward D'Angelo’s character could have been omitted from the script and it still would not affect the overall story.

As the movie reaches its conclusion, it appears that the family returns to its status quo, reaffirming the message that you have to forgive toxic family members simply because they are family. Apart from being cliched, the story regresses the characters, especially Jason. Good luck to him on surviving another holiday with the family.

Overall, Violent Night is a popcorn movie aimed at adults who have grown tired of mushy holiday films. But much like popcorn, Violent Night is akin to mindless snacking to kill time and does not do much to change your reality.

Violent Night is now showing in Philippine cinemas.