REVIEW: ‘Violent Night’ is an adult version of ‘Home Alone’

Abigail Celoria, Culture Editor

With the arrival of the holidays comes a slew of Christmas films, both new and old. “Violent Night” is the most recent entry in this canon. While many recent releases fail to utilize the talent of their stars, David Harbor plays the perfect morally gray Santa in this creative Christmas tale, and grown-up fans of “Home Alone” are sure to enjoy this film’s gory gimmicks.

“Violent Night” introduces the audience to a new, disillusioned Santa drinking his way through deliveries. However, during his visit to the home of the Lightstones, a dysfunctional yet affluent family, he encounters a band of mercenaries holding them hostage. Santa must fight the mercenaries off to save their youngest child, Trudy (Leah Brady).

Within just a few minutes, “Violent Night” lets audiences know early on that this is no family Christmas flick. The film opens with Santa drinking at a bar when he encounters another “Santa” who believes he is a fellow mall actor. When the mall Santa mentions his pay, Harbor’s Santa rants about the world’s increasing state of greed and heads to the establishment’s roof. The bartender tries to chase him down but instead witnesses him take off in his sleigh. She watches in awe, until he throws up over the edge of the sleigh and right onto her.

This opening scene immediately establishes Santa’s current attitude on the world, which makes his subsequent disillusionment easier to accept from such a jolly figure. The break in the bartender’s wonder also sets expectations for the tone going forward—half comedic, half alarming.

The story that follows is exactly that. The gory fight scenes evoke both laughter and revulsion. Santa’s first two fights are long and drawn-out, demonstrating the stakes to the audience. Even the less fleshed-out mercenaries intimidate the audience with their skill and determination. They also set the pace of the story, as Santa’s initial investment is simply out of survival.

The shift to quicker fight scenes comes after Santa establishes his relationship with Trudy. Via a toy walkie-talkie, she contacts him as a hostage and asks for his help. Aside from Santa’s general connection with children, Trudy’s entry on the “nice list” helps restore his faith in human goodness.

Overall, the strengths of “Violent Night” lie in its action. As Santa engages in battles of increasing stakes, viewers find themselves drawn in first by the humorous premise, and then out of sheer excitement. For fans of gore, this is the perfect Christmas movie.

Every Santa tale has its own take on the mythical figure’s magic, and “Violent Night” is no exception. Santa’s strength acts like a comedic magical element at first, but as his backstory comes to light, the film reveals surprising ideas in its Santa lore. This suspension of disbelief allows audiences to invest further in his quest.

The mercenaries’ motivation is simple enough—money—and that works well for the film. However, their leader, callsign “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo), holds a personal vendetta against Santa. If he kills Santa, then he kills Christmas, a holiday he hates for its association with wealth.

‘Violent Night’ is a dark Christmas take on the cult classic ‘Home Alone.’

While a cool addition on paper, its execution is underdeveloped. The film does not spend enough time with Scrooge individually to flesh this backstory out. In typical villain fashion, the audience only gains this information when Scrooge monologues at a briefly captured Santa. As a result, his one-on-one against Santa at the end of the film feels less climactic. For a designated “big bad,” Scrooge is ultimately underwhelming.

However, as a group the mercenaries are delightful. From their Christmas costumes to ridiculous code names, they are an excellent comedic device. Most of the members take on a dimensionless villain role, which works best in the context of the film. It allows them to become the butt of a “Home Alone”-style plot cooked up by Trudy. She holds her own against two of the prominent members in a more violent homage to the Christmas classic. The fact that “Home Alone” played at the beginning of the film also sets up the nostalgia.

“Violent Night” even manages to sneak in a twist, as Gertrude Lightstone’s (Beverly D’Angelo) kill squad turns on her in pursual of her money. With an elite force to take down, Santa’s strength shines. The climax is a surprisingly epic fulfillment of his backstory, showing the care that went into what could’ve been a brainless action thriller.

Unfortunately, the ending does fall flat. This is in part due to Scrooge’s lack of development, but also due to the Lightstones themselves. Besides Trudy, none of the Lightstones are truly likeable, making their role in the plot a lot less enjoyable as time goes on.

The three adult Lightstones play on conventional rich family characters: the domineering matriarch, the annoying schmoozer child and the cynical realist child. Gertrude, Alva (Edi Patterson) and Jason (Alex Hassell) Lightstone, respectively, exemplify these types. Their irritating personalities do add to the film’s comedic tone, but as the climax approaches, these negative traits become abrasive. Even Jason, who is set up to be the more reasonable one, is ultimately not deserving of rescue when it is revealed he planned to steal his mother’s money.

Because of their lack of growth, them being the ones to save Santa with their “belief” feels like a stilted solution. The worldbuilding around Santa’s magic is elastic enough to allow it, yet the action seems out of character for most of the family. As a result, the ending falls into regular Christmas movie cheesiness.

However, as a whole, “Violent Night” adds something unique to the regular Christmas canon. An enjoyable, action-packed flick, it is well worth a trip to the theatre this holiday season.