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Die Hard meets Home Alone meets John Wick is probably the best description of forthcoming David Harbour Christmas film Violent Night, a festive offering the Stranger Things and MCU star describes as a “fun, violent, crazy, action movie”.
“At its essence, it is a Christmas movie about believing in Santa Claus, and believing in the spirit of Christmas,” he offers.
“I mean, the plot of the movie is about the real Santa, who is trapped in a sort of saccharine version of himself, and doesn’t really believe in Christmas anymore. He feels like it’s full of greedy boys and girls who just consume. He created this thing so he hates himself.
“He goes to a house to deliver his presents, begrudgingly. There’s a little girl and this family who get attacked by a group of mercenaries. Santa has a decision to make, whether he is going to get involved in the situation, or whether he’s going to back out. He decides to get involved and save this little girl, and go after the guys on his naughty list.
“Amidst that, we reveal that Santa has been through a lot of stuff. He’s been around for 10,000 years, and maybe in his past he wasn’t the best guy. So, he uses those powers of what he’s been through to become this bada**, and save this little girl.
“At the end of it, she believes in Santa, and he, in a sense, believes in himself a little bit more. It’s a fun action movie.”
Harbour enthuses that “it’s almost like Miracle on 34th Street” and that it “really should be a movie that’s enjoyed around Christmas”. Despite featuring some of the most graphic and creative kills utilised in not only a Christmas movie but any film, it does “give you that Christmas warm spirit when you leave the theatre”.
The creative team behind the film is just as eclectic as the final product, with producers 87North (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2), Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Dead Snow franchise) and writers Pat Casey & Josh Miller (Sonic the Hedgehog) joining forces to bring it to life.
As such, there are a lot of elements you don’t normally see combined, tugging at each other throughout the film; it would have been very easy to go too far in a certain direction.
“Yeah, I think that was a concern when I started this thing: ‘How do you make it work?’” Harbour tells. “It is so unique. It doesn’t fit any real model because it has three elements. It’s got all the John Wick action of an action movie; it’s got wacky comedy; then, it also has a Christmas movie at the centre of it, like Home Alone, or Miracle on 34th Street.
“So, it was a balancing act. We had David Leitch, who does all those John Wick movies, and Atomic Blonde, and Nobody, and is so skilled at that action. We didn’t really need to focus too much on that. We let him and his team take care of that, which is so extraordinary and top-shelf that the fights are out of this world. Then the comedy, these really young, interesting writers, who’ve done some really great work, wrote a hilarious script. We didn’t worry about that either.
“Me and Tommy really focused on the heart of the movie. I kept coming back to that movie, Miracle on 34th Street. We really developed this relationship between him and this little girl. I guess, the thing that I’m most proud of is that you can have this romp, and go through all this violence and humour, and at the end of it, I get a little choked up when he’s with that little girl. You see that she’s allowed him to believe more in himself. It feels really warm and really special. In the balancing act, that was the stuff that we really had to focus on.”
The film’s comedic tone and Christmas spirit elevate the severity – and hilarity – of some pretty horrific kills, often revolving around decorations. One can only imagine reading a script such as Violent Night and being curious and perhaps excited about seeing how the actions play out on the big screen, especially if your character is the one unleashing most of the chaos.
“I am not a huge fan of watching myself on film,” Harbour admits. “I never, when I make a movie, think, ‘Ooh, I can’t wait to watch myself on the big screen.’” I usually think, ‘How quickly can I run from the theatre?’ Being done by someone else, I would be very excited to see something like this. I was very interested if we could pull it off, you know?
“As we worked on it, we worked really hard to, as you say, find that balance and really create a fun movie. When we finished shooting it and as I saw put together, as much as I could stand watching myself on film, I did feel like it really does deliver on a lot of different fronts. I was really proud of Tommy, and the rest of the cast, and all the moments in it, but the idea that I’m going to make a movie, and then be really excited to see myself on screen is just never going to happen.
“There are people out there, I’m sure, that look at themselves in pictures and on screen, and are just like, ‘Damn. I’m fantastic,’” he laughs. “There’s something Ellen Burstyn described as ‘the divine dissatisfaction of the artist’. She was talking to a young actor. The actor was like, ‘Oh, everything I do… I’m just disappointed.’ She said, ‘Well, then you’re doing what you should be doing.’
“We, as artists, say to ourselves, ‘Ooh, I wonder if I could create a room,’ and you create a room. Immediately upon creating that room, you think, ‘I wonder if I could create a house,’ as opposed to appreciating the room. You create a house, and then you go, ‘I wonder if I could create a city.’ That is the divine dissatisfaction. It always exists. No matter what project I do, it’s never enough for my artistic hunger and palette.”
Violent Night leaves a lot open in terms of world-building and characters it could expand upon, especially Harbour’s Santa Claus, so who knows, this could be the beginning of a new franchise.
“We hinted the backstory of our guy in this movie,” Harbour says. “There’s a lot of complexity of someone who has been around for 10,000 years, and what that’s been like. The other thing is the mythology of Santa Claus, in general.
“He was, in the Christian tradition, Saint Nicholas, who was a patron saint of repentant sinners. I thought that was really interesting. Also, there’s Weihnachtsmann in Germany… There are just all these different tales of a guy who is kind of nice to children around Christmas. Where he’s come from, and who he’s been, and what he’s done in his past, is mysterious. We hinted at things in this movie, but there is a lot to be explored, should it be wanted to be explored.”
‘Violent Night’ is in cinemas December 1