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SYFY WIRE reviews

'Violent Night': Critics say David Harbour is 'a Santa for the ages' in merrily bloody Christmas romp

Violent Night lands up on the housetop of theaters Friday, Dec. 2.

By Josh Weiss
Violent Night (2022)

As The Kinks once sang: "Father Christmas, give us some money / Don't mess around with those silly toys / We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over." It seems David Harbour took that as a credible threat because his latest film role is as a pugilistic Santa Claus in Universal Pictures' Violent Night. Riding a one-horse open "slay" (get it?) into theaters everywhere this Friday — Dec. 2. — the film places a holly jolly spin on the classic Die Hard formula by pitting St. Nick against a squad of greedy, gun-toting mercenaries.

Reviews are now making their way online as critics hail what might be a new holiday classic that more than earns its R-rating by turning every conceivable Christmas item into a deadly weapon. Harbour, of course, steals the show, portraying the gift-delivering icon as a cynical drunk who is now more Grinch than Santa. He gets a shot at redemption when he enters the home of a wealthy family to deliver presents, only to find its inhabitants under siege by the aforementioned criminals (led by John Leguizamo's oily Mr. Scrooge).

Written by Sonic the Hedgehog scribes Pat Casey and Josh Miller, Violent Night was directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters). Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, and Guy Danella produced the film. Marc S. Fischer is an executive producer.

Slide down the chimney with care to see what critics are saying...

"Violent Night, with its action-thriller soundtrack built around themes from classic Christmas songs, is a movie that makes you think: What’s next, Massacre on 34th St.? Christmas movies, like all Hollywood pulp, build on one another, and maybe this is just one more age-of-nothing-sacred holiday mish-mash, but Violent Night, depending on how it performs, could open the door to a new kind of down-and-dirty Christmas/action hybrid. Just imagine hearing lines like 'God bless us — every one, motherf—er!” The possibilities are endless." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety

"To call Violent Night heartwarming might be a bridge too far. This is, after all, still a film that seems to have been mostly built around the question of 'How many Christmas-themed props can we turn into weapons?' (The answer: most of them, apparently! Try very hard not to think about that the next time some eggnog-drunk relative is trying your last nerve over the last slice of glazed ham.) But for those who prefer their gingerbread soaked in booze and their tinsel splattered with gore, Violent Night might be exactly what the season calls for." -Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter

"Violent Night is a holiday action sugar rush that never forgets to be brutal, funny and heartwarming, whatever the occasion calls for. The nice will be vindicated and the naughty will tremble in fear, as David Harbour’s is coming to town with his own brand of justice and a taste for only the finest Christmas cookies." -Mike Reyes, CinemaBlend

"This is not a Norman Rockwell vision of Santa, of course. He has a torso full of tattoos and sutures his own wounds with Christmas tree ornament hooks. He vomits, impales baddies in spiky Christmas decorations and uses the sharp parts of a pair of ice skates with surgical precision. Few films have earned their R-rating better. All that’s missing is you as long as you think it’s time to add a little blood to Christmas?" -Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

"There’s an insightful element to Violent Night that positions Harbour as a cinematic Santa for the ages? Swigging beers on his big night, our hero dubs today’s kids 'little junkies' who enjoy their presents for mere moments before wanting more, more, more. He later encounters a Christmas wish list that just asks for cash. There’s obvious comedy in a jolly old Saint Nick who drinks whiskey instead of milk, pisses out of his sleigh, and bashes bad guys’ heads in, but Casey and Miller, with Wirkola’s genre-balancing direction, have actually crafted an intriguingly anti-capitalist Claus." -Jack Smart, The A.V. Club

"Harbour is excellent, authentically wheezing around like a man who’s had centuries of global celebration on his shoulders. He’s a gift compared to the villains: an annoying, quippy bunch who desperately want to be Hans Gruber, and think escalating edgy expletives will make up for their coal-lump charisma. It’s a pleasure to see them despatched, but for every abominable use of an ice skate blade, there’s some dull family drama to sludge through and the joyfully macabre fun melts away into unfortunate mundanity." -Jake Cunningham, Empire

"The fight scenes are competent; the gore and gunfire are plentiful, there are some reasonably clever kills (Santa’s pre-history as a Viking warrior is a nice touch), and the occasional kidding of action movie clichés (like Santa’s self-surgery scene) are welcome. Harbour, to his credit, gets some laughs out of sheer force of personality, and the occasional cock-eyed line reading ('Santa’s gonna eat through these guys like a plate full of cookies'). He seems to be having a good time. At least someone is." -Jason Bailey, The Playlist

"A David Harbour showcase that gets nuttier than peanut brittle. Wirkola doesn't hold back as Home Alone becomes a graphic traps-that-kill homage or Santa pulverizes bone under heavy steel, embracing the B-Movie extremes that more than earn its hard 'R' rating. Violent Night might take a hot minute to find its footing and keeps plucking low-hanging wordplay sugar plums, but at full strength, nobody's stopping Santa from making this year the reddest Christmas imaginable." -Matt Donato, IGN

"The big draw of Violent Night is, of course, right there in the title: the violence! Wirkola has often delighted in turning basic-ish ideas into bloody good fun with the addition of head-bashing twists. You can practically hear the elevator pitches: 'It’s a horror movie about Nazis…who are also zombies' or 'It’s Hansel and Gretel…but also they’re witch hunters.' Santa Claus is a natural fit for that sort of sensibility, and with the added zip and zeal of production shingle 87North (Bullet Train, Nobody), it’s got the bone-crunching stunts to match Santa’s panache for killing baddies." -Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Violent Night lands up on the housetop of theaters (Click! Click! Click!) this Friday — Dec. 2.