Release Date(s)2022 (November 7, 2023)
Studio(s)87North Productions (Universal Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Tommy Wirkola’s Violent Night is a decisive answer to the age-old question that has plagued film buffs for decades: is Die Hard a Christmas movie, or isn’t it? Except that the real genius of Violent Night is that it answers the question indirectly, by inverting the standard formula in order to throw the contrast between brutality and the Christmas spirit into sharp relief. Rather than to trying to make Die Hard into a Christmas movie, it makes a Christmas movie into Die Hard instead. By the time that the closing credits roll, any questions about the nature of Die Hard have been rendered irrelevant. In lesser hands, Violent Night could have been just another entry in the Christmas horror subgenre, but thankfully it’s nothing of the sort. Santa may have gone on cinematic rampages before, but not like he does here. The posters certainly made it look like standard Christmas horror, and the rest of the marketing campaign didn’t necessarily give an accurate impression of what was really going on, either. Yet in a sense, that’s not a bad thing. The real joy of Violent Night is discovering it for yourself—the less that you know before watching it, the better. There won’t be any real spoilers here, but read on at your own risk if you have yet to experience what it has to offer.
David Harbour stars as old Saint Nick, yet in this case, there’s nothing even remotely jolly about him. This particular Santa Claus has lost his Christmas cheer, and since far too many people no longer believe in him, he’s lost a fair share of his Christmas magic as well. He goes through his deliveries in desultory fashion, making frequent pit stops at bars along the way to help drown his sorrows. He’s not above digging into people’s liquor cabinets when delivering presents, either. When he stops at a mansion owned by a wealthy but dysfunctional family, he’s about to delve into some vintage brandy when Holy Night unexpectedly turns into holy hell. Since he just doesn’t care anymore, he wants nothing more than to escape the carnage. Yet once he discovers that there’s someone from his Nice list in peril elsewhere in the house, he decides to unleash his own kind of hell on the names from his Naughty list. Violent Night also stars John Leguizamo, Beverly D’Angelo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, and Leah Brady.
There’s obviously a touch of Bad Santa to this iteration of the Talented Mr. Kringle, but he’s really not so much of a bad Santa as he is a badass Santa. He’s just lost his way a little bit, and like many people during the holidays, all that he needed was a reminder about what’s truly important during the season. Yet any possible similarities to Bad Santa or Die Hard during the course of Violent Night are just the tip of the iceberg. Pat Casey and Josh Miller happily wore their inspirations on their sleeves while writing the screenplay for Violent Night, and Wirkola gleefully got into the holiday movie spirit as well. In addition to borrowing the basic story structure from the first Die Hard, there are also plenty of shameless allusions to Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, The Ref, and many, many more. There’s even a couple of quick nods to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Fans of Corridor Crew, take note: Wirkola, Casey, and Miller took one of their episodes of We Made This Movie R-Rated to heart, and delivered in even more spectacularly gruesome fashion.
So, to go back to the original question: is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Of course it is, but as Violent Night demonstrates in delightful fashion, Christmas movies can be Die Hard as well. The original Die Hard formula quickly became a joke, with Under Siege being called “Die Hard on a boat,” or Passenger 57 being called “Die Hard on a plane,” and many other films have also received the same lazy kind of description. Yet it’s almost unfathomable that it took this long for someone to lean fully into the Christmas angle and finally make “Die Hard on a sleigh.” Thankfully, Violent Night was worth the wait. Nearly forty years down the road, the circle is now complete.
Cinematographer Matthew Weston captured Violent Night digitally in ARRIRAW format at 4.5K resolution using ARRI ALEXA mini cameras with Panavision T-series anamorphic lenses. Post-production work was completed as a Digital Intermediate, framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. There’s no information available regarding whether it was a 2K or a 4K DI, but either way the image in this 4K version is sharper than it was on standard Blu-ray. Fine details like Santa’s beard, his leather jacket, and its fur trim are all nicely resolved in this version. Other textures like the ribbed weave on Alexis Louder’s sweater are also a hair crisper. If it is an upscale from a 2K DI, it’s further proof of the advantages in upscaling from the uncompressed source, especially when higher capture resolutions were involved. While Violent Night does appear to have been released theatrically in Dolby Vision, the High Dynamic Range grade on this disc is HDR10 only. It strengthens the contrast range compared to Blu-ray, but not dramatically so. Still, that does help to enhance the overall clarity. Some of the nighttime exterior shots do have slightly elevated black levels, but that’s likely how they were originally captured. The colors are a bit more intense in HDR, but once again not dramatically so. This is definitely an upgrade over Blu-ray, but it’s an incremental one.
The audio this time around is an even bigger upgrade. Violent Night was released theatrically in Dolby Atmos, but Universal stuck to their standard practice of not including Atmos on Blu-ray and limited the audio to 7.1 instead. Fortunately, that omission has been corrected on their 4K release. The 7.1 mix was good, but this Atmos version is a clear improvement. It’s even more immersive, with the overhead channels being used for effects like bullets ricocheting off the ceiling and the sound of Santa’s reindeer on the roof (well, at least until they decide that discretion is the better part of valor, anyway). The dynamics are solid, and there’s some deep bass when appropriate, although this is one mix that won’t strain your subwoofers too much. The appropriately Michael Kamen-style score from Dominic Lewis is well-recorded and it does a fine job of supporting the overall mix.
Additional audio options include French (France), French (Canada), Spanish, and Italian 7.1 DTS; Japanese 5.1 DTS; and German Dolby Atmos. Subtitle options include English SDH, French (France), French (Canada), Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Czech, and Chinese.
Universal’s 4K Ultra HD release of Violent Night is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film and a slipcover, with a Digital code on a paper insert tucked inside. The following extras are included, all of them in HD (no 4K extras from Universal this time):
- Audio Commentary with Tommy Wirkola, Guy Danella, Pat Casey, and Josh Miller
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (19:02, 9 in all)
- Quarrelin’ Kringle (3:45)
- Santa’s Helpers: The Making of Violent Night (5:56)
- Deck the Halls with Brawls (6:04)
The commentary brings together Wirkola, Casey, Miller, and producer Guy Danella for a lively and energetic chat about the making of Violent Night. They offer some insights into the development of the story and the script, and also the ways in which it evolved over the course of the production. They identify some of the references, as well as things that were improvised or otherwise developed on set. Violent Night is hardly a subtle film, but they do point out some sly touches in it that are easy to miss on a first viewing. Some of them can’t be seen anywhere, including on the disc—they cut some parts of Santa’s backstory, and opted to cut it out of the deleted scenes on the disc as well since they’re saving the material for the planned sequel. (David Harbour told CinemaBlend that he’d like to see Charlize Theron play Mrs. Claus, and here’s hoping that someone can make that happen.) It’s pretty clear that the whole team had a good time making the movie, and they also had a very good time recording the commentary together. The good times are infectious, so do give this track a listen.
The rest of the extras consist of a collection of deleted/extended scenes and a group of very brief EPK-style featurettes. Fortunately, Universal continues to provide a “play all” option that allows viewers to watch them as a group instead of having to keep hitting play every five minutes. (That’s a nice feature that more studios should offer.) The deleted scenes mostly consist of inessential moments, and it’s easy to understand why they were cut, but a few of them are a different story altogether. Bad Dad must have been intended to play as a coda just before the credits rolled, or else as a mid-credit or post-credit bumper. It shows that Santa really has found a new lease on life and he’s not just going to be delivering presents anymore—you better watch out. The Cast Call Back shows outtakes of the actors that was designed to play under the cast credit scrawl, and it would have been a nice touch, but it may have been removed for tonal reasons. (It’s too bad that there’s no optional commentary to explain the decision.) Quarrelin’ Kringle, Santa’s Helpers: The Making of Violent Night, and Deck the Halls with Brawls all offer interviews with the cast and crew as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. They really would have been much better if they’d been combined into a single making-of featurette, but there’s still some interesting information here, especially in regards to the stunt crew and the staging of the action scenes.
Violent Night won’t be everyone’s preference as a Christmas confection, but it should be a welcome breath of fresh air to anyone who already includes movies like Die Hard, Bad Santa or The Ref on their list of holiday classics. It’s impossible to know what kind of legs that any particular film will have, but I suspect that Violent Night will join Die Hard as a topic of Christmas conversations for many decades to come. The two of them will certainly make a holy hell of a double bill for holiday season movie nights. (Hmm, now there’s an idea...)
- Stephen Bjork