The world does not have nearly enough foul-mouthed, blood-drenched, morally inappropriate Christmas films. Give me Black Christmas; Silent Night, Deadly Night; or Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale over those red-and-green Netflix things that habitually dispatch Hilary Duff to snowy castles in the Hebrides.
Sadly, the unfunny, unexciting Violent Night fails to deliver on its substantial promise. We begin very much in Bad Santa territory – add that mucky classic to the list above – with David Harbour’s depressed Santa drinking himself insensible in Bristol (of all places). The scene closes with the revelation that, rather than a department-store fraud, he is your actual Father Christmas with your actual flying reindeer. After a few bumps and bashes he finds himself fighting off goons seeking to rob a megawealthy family in New England.
Directed by the Norwegian genre specialist Tommy Wirkola, Violent Night suffers from a severe case of identity confusion. Large parts of the film do indeed play like sentimental Christmas drips from the world’s favourite streaming service. Alex Hassell and Alexis Louder are an estranged couple hoping to keep the spirit of Yule alive for their moppet of a daughter (Leah Brady). Two entries in the annual “Is that a proper Christmas film?” debate get pale restagings rather than proper pastiches.
The wee girl does everything that Kevin does in Home Alone. Santa essentially becomes Bruce Willis in Die Hard. In one of the film’s most oblique non sequiturs, we travel above the Arctic Circle for prehistoric Viking adventures straight out of Robert Eggers’s The Northman. Beverly D’Angelo, star of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, gives more to the role of evil capitalist Gorgon than the clunky writing deserves. There is more pot luck where that came from.
Every now and then the audience is shaken out of its drowsy complacency with a reminder that we are in hard 16-cert territory. There is nothing wrong with decapitations and finger severing in such seasonal entertainments.
If John Leguizamo’s character wants to greet the family with a “Bah humbug, motherf**kers!” then by all means let him do so. But it would be as well to mould the surrounding material to fit the core depravity. Nothing matches.
It’s like attending a party where no two guests are on sufficiently good terms to manage even 20 minutes of civilised conversation. “Perfect for Christmas Day then,” I hear you say. Too cynical. Too cynical.