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Violent Night

Director: Tommy Wirkola (USA, Canada). Year of Release: 2022

Bristol, England. A bar in which, for no explicable reason, all the staff and customers talk in Australian accents. A brace of Santas sit at the bar. One is relatively new at the job – he’s only been doing it for 4 years. The other has been Santaing since time began. This has sapped him from any delight at rewarding children for being Nice – nowadays they’re all selfish and avaricious, asking for video games which they’ll use once before throwing away.

Older Santa drunkenly makes his way back to work, but the woman behind the bar notices that he’s taken the door which only leads to the roof. She follows him up, worried that in his state, he might fall off. This worry intensifies when she sees that the roof is empty. But then she looks at the moon, and sees the silhouette of a reindeer-driven sleigh. She gazes up in wonder at the real Santa. At this very same moment, he pukes over the side of his sleigh into her face.

This opening, much of which is in the trailer, givers the sense that this is going to be another Bad Santa. So, it’s sad to report that by the end, this film is going to get horribly sentimental, and the plot is largely based on at pleasing a moppet who is 7 years old but acts much younger. It’s almost as if the director were trying to provide both schmaltz and cynicism so as to reach the widest possible audience. It gleefully appeals to the degenerate society which it is nominally condemning.

Back to the plot. Linda is visiting her ex-husband Jason’s family mansion, accompanied by the aforementioned moppet Trudy. Linda still can’t believe that he grew up somewhere which has it’s own private road and is guarded 24 hours a day by black security guards (Linda and Trudy are also black). Jason’s family is stereotypically obnoxious – be it his greedy mother Gertrude, grasping sister Alva, Alva’s wannabe actor younger partner, or son Bertrude, named to suck up to mom.

It is an interesting recent phenomenon that it is sufficient for several films to tell us that some characters are rich for us to know at once that they are evil. This reflects positive trends within society, but can lead towards lazy writing. We are never really told why they are evil. In this case there is some vague talk of money laundering for the US military. But by the end of the film, we are expected to root for Jason’s obnoxious family and hope that they retain their ill-gotten gains.

There is a similar disjoint in what we see and what we are told in Jason’s relationship with Linda. Early scenes show that they do not get on, and she is only engaging in the Christmas charade for Trudy’s sake. But, It is repeated in the film, Trudy’s Christmas wish is for her parents to reunite. So what’s it to be? The continuation of a loveless marriage with an entitled man, or the idea that women might have some say in who they love? It pains me to say that this question is rhetorical.

Anyway, just as the dysfunctional family is assembling, the party is crashed by a gang which is interested in the $300 million of ill-gotten gains stored in the basement vault. Just as the family is being rounded up in the drawing room, Santa stirs in the massage chair that he’d been using after he replaced the milk that had been left out for him with more enticing stuff from the liquor cabinet. Abandoned by his reindeer, Santa is also forced to hide.

This is where sentimentality takes full swing. Jason has once more forgotten to take his daughter to visit a pretend Santa. He fabricates a phone which he says will allow her to talk to Santa. As it happens, because of “Christmas magic” (a term often used in the film to explain inexplicable plot twists) it gives her a direct line to real Santa. Together, they team up to defeat the bad guys (who are not that bad, as all they’re trying to do is rob people with more money than they ever needed).

Santa’s fighting capacities are enhanced by him having once been a Norse fighter called Nicodemus the Red. Of course he was. This leads to scenes of his overcoming heavily armed men (and the occasional woman) who are much younger than him, just by hitting them on the head or throwing various Christmas ornaments at them. It might be petty to complain about implausibility in a film about the “real” Santa Claus, but much of this is so lazily written that it fails to engage.

While Santa is beating up most of the bad guys, Trudy has escaped to the attic, and is seeing off the people who are chasing her with booby-traps which she openly says were stolen from having recently watched Home Alone. Which, at least, is honest, but offers no argument as to why we should not be watching the original instead of the copy. Why watch Violent Night, when you could view Home Alone, or Die Hard, which contains similar plot twists plus more convincing acting.

With all these limitations, some critics have given Violent Night a kicking which I don’t think it deserves. This is a perfectly serviceable film, which rages against the right people, and has a number of fairly funny slapstick scenes. What it does not offer is anything remotely original. Added to this, its attempt to appeal to the “real spirit of Christmas” and undue foreshadowing of sweet little kids may appeal to some, but it leaves me cold. It’s perfectly fine. But it’s also nothing special.

But yeah, go one, give it a go. There’s worse stuff out there (see yesterday’s review) 🙂

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