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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – 'Slay' bells ring with Violent Night

December’s here, and it’s time to deck those proverbial halls.

David Harbour in Violent Night
David Harbour in Violent Night

Every streaming service in the land is awash with tinsel-tastic classics, and the ‘suggested views’ of the masses have transformed from Breaking Bad, House of the Dragon and Fargo to a wholesome buffet table of Home Alone, Elf, and Miracle on 34th Street.

While my better half has been dining out on Christmas flicks since August, now is the time that the rest of the population is catching up with her.

The plain and simple truth folks, is that Christmas movies are good for the soul. And while I pride myself on being something of a curmudgeonly Scrooge most of the year round, when December hits, even I’m partial to an ample serving of The Muppet Christmas Carol, and of course, that bona fide festive staple, Die Hard.

However, while most Christmas flicks (the latter being a notable exception) and packed to the brim with hearts, smiles and good cheer, this week sees something of an alternative offering hitting the silver screen.

Directed by Tommy Wirkola, and starring Stranger Things legend David Harbour, Violent Night brings us a big ole’ helping of Santa – but not as we know him. The clue is very much in the title, and audiences can certainly expect those ‘slay’ bells to ring.

Elsewhere this week, psychological thriller The Infernal Machine has dropped, bringing us Neighbours alumnus and Hollywood veteran Guy Pearce in the role of a distressed author under threat from an obsessive fan.

Directed by Andrew Hunt, this one is set to get the neurones of the masses firing, and will no doubt lead more than a few folks to start checking over their shoulders. Let’s take a closer look...

VIOLENT NIGHT (15, 112 mins)

Released: December 2 (UK & Ireland)

According to the lyrics of Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, “He knows if you’ve been bad or good/So be good for goodness sake”.

That plea certainly doesn’t apply to the figurehead of Christmas in director Tommy Wirkola’s giddily irreverent home invasion thriller.

The ample-bellied man in the red suit is drunk and disorderly in charge of reindeer, unapologetically profane and deeply disrespectful of homeowners and their property (especially liquor cabinets).

He is also the hammer-wielding hero of Violent Night, the illegitimate love child of Bad Santa and Die Hard, which compels a hungover and disillusioned Saint Nick to dole out season’s beatings when he should be delivering presents to sweetly slumbering children.

The naughty list is extensive in Wirkola’s gratuitously gory picture, which boasts John Wick director David Leitch as a producer.

His influence is pronounced in two, stunt-heavy fight sequences: a young girl replicating Home Alone-style booby traps to fend off thugs and a showdown between Santa and gun-toting assailants, which choreographs jaw-dropping carnage while Bryan Adams croons “Christmas Time”.

Screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller, who turbo-charged the recent Sonic The Hedgehog films, pay tongue-in-cheek homage to seasonal favourites including Miracle On 34th Street for a subversive Christmas caper that salves a deeply sadistic streak (a wooden nutcracker is abused as an instrument of torture) with heart-warming sentimentality.

It’s a potent and heady brew like homemade egg nog with overly generous sloshes of bourbon, rum and brandy.

Santa Claus (David Harbour) enjoys a couple of beers at a pub in Bristol on Christmas Eve before he takes flight in his reindeer-pulled sleigh.

He materialises down the chimney of greedy matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo) just as criminal mastermind Mr Scrooge (John Leguizamo) storms the mansion with an army of goons led by right-hand man Gingerbread (Andre Eriksen).

The intruders are targeting 300 million US dollars in the Lightstone family vault.

They take hostages including Gertrude’s son Jason (Alex Hassell), his wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and their young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady).

Gertrude’s money-grabbing daughter Alva (Edi Patterson) is also collateral with her buffoonish action movie star husband Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and their bratty, social-media obsessed son Bert (Alexander Elliot).

“When he was small, I begged you to beat him,” despairs grandmother Gertrude.

Santa discovers innocent believer Trudy is in peril and he reluctantly takes matters into his white-gloved hands.

Violent Night gleefully desecrates Yuletide iconography, spraying bodily fluids in all directions for groans and ghoulish giggles.

Harbour embraces his character’s Viking past to perform physically demanding brawls without losing sight of the touching emotional connection to Brady’s moppet. On-screen bloodletting is copious including a close encounter with a wood chipper but the tone is stylised and predominantly comical.

Santa sleighs and slays again.

THE INFERNAL MACHINE (15, 111 mins)

Released: December 2 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Guy Pearce as writer Bruce Cogburn in Andrew Hunt’s new psychological drama, The Infernal Machine

Based on The Hilly Earth Society podcast penned by Louis Kornfeld, The Infernal Machine is a slow-burning psychological thriller about a reclusive writer’s emergence from solitude to face the threat of an obsessive fan, who may be connected to the deadly campus shooting that sent the author into self-imposed exile.

Anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning 1990 adaptation of Misery starring Kathy Bates and James Caan knows how badly a relationship between a creative and their fervent admirer can end.

Writer-director Andrew Hunt has fun placing his beleaguered protagonist in jeopardy and slowly tightening thumbscrews with one disorienting twist after another.

Guy Pearce adopts a wandering Lancashire accent as the guilt-riddled wordsmith, who seeks absolution in a bottle and is too inebriated to spot the warning signs of his impending downfall until it is almost too late.

He plays writer Bruce Cogburn, who lives in booze-soaked seclusion on the outskirts of Almas Perdidas in California.

It has been 25 years since the publication of his controversial debut The Infernal Machine, which won numerous awards and was infamously pulled from shelves following a shooting at Knoxville university which left 13 dead and 26 critically injured.

The 17-year-old culprit, Dwight Tufford (Alex Pettyfer), claimed the book compelled him to pull the trigger.

Bruce communicates with his agent Jerry by pay phone and she forwards mail to a PO box, including a barrage of handwritten letters from diehard fan William DuKent in Aspen, Colorado.

This ardent disciple is a fledgling wordsmith and hopes to speak with his idol.

“I don’t do interviews. Never have, never will,” Bruce growls into William’s voicemail inbox.

Fanaticism moulders into a dangerous fixation and Bruce grows increasingly paranoid, acquiring a guard dog for protection.

Local police officer Laura Higgins (Alice Eve) kindly listens to Bruce’s concerns and when the situation deteriorates, the jittery author seeks an audience with Dwight in a maximum-security prison.

Pearce puts his character through the wringer while co-stars effectively play against type to sustain tension.

TORI AND LOKITA (15, 89 mins)

Released: December 2 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Tori And Lokita: Joely Mbundu and Pablo Schils star as young refugees

Belgian-born brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are in rarefied company as two-time winners of the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honour, the Palme d’Or, for their emotionally wrought pictures Rosetta and The Child. Tori And Lokita continues the siblings’ tradition of focusing on people on the margins of society with an unsettling story of two young African refugees trying to forge a new life in Belgium.

Plucky teenager Lokita (Joely Mbundu) and her younger brother Tori (Pablo Schils) have escaped Benin for a supposedly brighter future in Liege.

Unfortunately, they are heavily in debt to people smugglers Justine (Nadege Ouedraogo) and Firmin (Marc Zinga), and Lokita faces an uphill battle to prove that Tori is really her sibling (he isn’t, but his life is in danger back in his home country so the deception is necessary).

The children cling to each other, reluctantly making money by selling drugs for scheming chef Betim (Alban Ukaj).

When Lokita makes a desperate deal with Betim to solve her troubles, the children are temporarily separated with potentially catastrophic consequences.

SUMMERING (12A, 85 mins)

Released: December 2 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Four girls come of age during a summer they will never forget in a nostalgic drama co-written by director James Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy that begs narrative similarities to Stand By Me.

Friends Daisy (Lia Barnett), Dina (Madalen Mills), Lola (Sanai Victoria) and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) savour the final days of the holidays before reality bites and they face life in different middle schools.

Congregating at their favourite tree in the woods, the girls discover the body of a dead man in the bushes and debate whether they should report their macabre find.

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