Saturday, December 3, 2022


Violent Night is for people who still think it makes them sound interesting to pretend they just noticed Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This hard-R actioner’s one innovation is to have the real Santa Claus (David Harbour) interrupt a home invasion. Alas, this is a noxiously pedestrian effort, lousy with gore and four-letter-words and filled with the unappealing, poorly sketched characters in the most routine plotting. It wants to be winking and transgressive. It tries really, really hard. How boring. It takes a real misanthrope or outsider to understand the undercurrents possible in a dark Christmas story. Put a Christmas Evil or Black Christmas or Dial Code Santa on and you’ll find a cozy Yuletide scumminess in harsher-edged stories of queasy intimate despair and real bloody danger. There’s always something bittersweet and sad about the holidays, a time to reflect on a fall from childhood innocence and domestic happiness. Even a more monstrous take—Rare Exports or Gremlins—plays up the Charlie Brown Christmas melancholy as it excavates clever ways to set scares against the setting. This one, with all its blandly blocked studio gloss, is just dull. It takes its idea’s surface and resolutely refuses to dig even one centimeter into its implications, senselessly colliding stupid fantasy with gooey gunplay over and over. And the thing stretches that thinness over two whole hours. Talk about a lump of coal.

The resulting forced frivolity leaves only mirthless misery where the action and comedy should be. It finds a horrible wealthy family trapped in their mansion on Christmas Eve when a paramilitary heist squad (led by John Leguizamo) shows up to take millions out of their vault. Turns out the family runs a black-ops contractor company and stole their stash from the US government by claiming it disappeared in the Middle East. Since we met the sweater-clad family (which includes Edi Patterson and Cam Gigandet and Beverly D’Angelo) vulgarly sniping at each other around a crackling fire, we aren’t exactly predisposed to like these crooked people. But the villains are never sympathetic either. And the movie lacks the moral or political clarity to actually make something of all that. So it’s just nasty for nasty’s sake. That’s an ain’t-I-a-stinker? move that runs straight into the movie’s actual attempts to make this all about The Spirit of Christmas. The horrible family has one bright spot: an innocent little girl (Leah Brady) brought by her reluctant mother (Alexis Louder). The tot still believes in Santa, and that belief in him will help save them all once Saint Nick himself ends up coming down the chimney and reluctantly reconnects with his Viking roots. Its approach to Claus lore is typically charmless. To see the jolly old elf himself sledgehammer and electrocute and behead the intruders, is, well, something, I suppose. This is all tiresomely tedious, and director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow), working from a screenplay by the Sonic the Hedgehog guys, lacks the chops to really make this mess of intentions cohere. The result is an ugly mixture of cringing empty holiday sentimentality and nasty artless violence.

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