From 87North, the bare-knuckle producers of Nobody, John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw comes a coal-dark holiday thriller that says you should always bet on red.
When a team of mercenaries breaks into a wealthy family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage, the team isn’t prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus (David Harbour, Black Widow, “Stranger Things” series) is on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint.
For the release of VIOLENT NIGHT, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana chatted with writer duo Pat Casey and Josh Miller, where they discussed where the idea of VIOLENT NIGHT came from, the origins of Santa Claus and – of course – Sonic The Hedgehog. There are spoilers, so please proceed with caution.
This film made me feel the Christmas spirit and I don’t even like Christmas. Where did the idea of VIOLENT NIGHT come from?
Josh Miller: It’s funny. You saying you don’t like Christmas was just making me think like, I’m definitely more of a Halloween person than a Christmas person as far as like life. But I’d almost compare it, maybe sounds like an odd comparison initially, but like I always compare Christmas to baseball when it comes to movies. I don’t care about baseball in real life, but I like baseball movies because, baseball as a sport, is perfect for movies. They’re just standing still. It’s hard to do like an NBA movie because everyone’s running around, you know?
Pat Casey: It’s impossible to make an actor who’s not good at basketball look like they’re good at basketball, but you can kind of make anybody look like they can swing a bat.
Josh Miller: And even though I don’t care about baseball, a good baseball movie can make me really buy into that stupid concept of America. It’s America’s pastime, and whatever. Same thing with Christmas movies. Obviously, all kids love Christmas because they like getting presents but in adulthood without kids, Christmas is just kind of like whatever. But I love Christmas movies and a good Christmas movie can make me feel as though I really care about Christmas.
We all watch the same Christmas movies around Christmas or at least Pat and I do, and all the R-rated action movies are now pretty old, the like Shane Black-era of Christmas movies. And then we were like, “Can we make a hard R-action movie that’s also genuinely a Christmas movie that gives us those like, gooey Christmas movie feelings like Miracle on 34th Street?” I hope we achieved that. I feel like we came pretty close.
Watching the film, I can see threads of certain things like Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Home Alone, and The Ref in a way. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite of The Ref. It’s so violent, but it’s also so funny. VIOLENT NIGHT kind of takes the edge off the violence, in my opinion. So how did you guys work that magic of the tones?
Pat Casey: Part of it was just the idea of making a Die Hard movie. There were so many Die Hard knockoffs. But what made the first one so good, in particular, was that it wasn’t just about a guy trapped in a building killing bad guys. It was the fact that killing all those bad guys somehow repaired his marriage. Once we had the idea here of like doing a Die Hard, but with Santa, but also having the sort of repairing a family theme, but also Santa getting his Christmas spirit back…there’s something so wholesome about that, that it sort of allowed us I think to go as far as we wanted with the violence because the overall messaging of the movie was so positive and like a big warm hug in a lot of ways.
Josh Miller: Look, this project we felt we got lucky on with the 87North team and our director, Tommy Wirkola, and everyone just really getting the tone and then, more important than getting it, liking the tone and wanting to keep the tone. I feel like it’s an issue we’ve had a lot in our career, especially with our original ideas, is that we always lean towards wanting to have this kind of over-the-top violence, but we’re not the kind of people who write dark fucked up dramas and stuff. So I think often people look at it and they’re just like, “But why is it so violent? I always feel like this movie’s PG, and then you have someone’s head get ripped off?” [laughs] We’re like, but can’t you do both?
Pat Casey: Sometimes we get pushback too on emotional moments too, [with questions] like can we really play this so straight? Shouldn’t we be undermining this or pull back on, on trying to make people cry? But we want to rip somebody’s head off and we want to make people cry and laugh at the same time. That’s really what we’re after. And sometimes we’ve run into the problem of people being like, it can’t be two things at the same time. And we’re like, but that’s what it is. It’s peanut butter and chocolate. That’s why people are gonna like it hopefully.
Josh Miller: So it was a crazy process because this always feels obvious to us. But as writers, after a certain point, you can’t convince an executive or a studio of something that they just can’t accept. But one of the first notes we got when we were going to script for Matt Reilly at Universal was just like, go crazy with the movie and the violence. We were like, “Wow, all right I hope you won’t regret those words.” The 87North team, obviously with Nobody and the movies they do, we knew they were gonna go crazy with the violence and Universal let him do that. And then Tommy continued to push things even further, and if you’ve seen any of Tommy’s movies, he’s gonna go crazy with the violence.
Pat Casey: Yeah, the only thing that we really had to take out because people thought it was too much is the scene where Santa throws the guys into the snowblower. We originally had a bit where then he’s like, turning the snowblower to spray down some other bad guys with guts in their faces. For whatever reason, that one’s too much, guys.
Josh Miller: I don’t know why that one was too much, but we’re like, Alright. [laughs] Keep everything else in. We’ll happily lose that.
Other than the snowblower, was there anything that you were considering in the script phase that you guys kind of went no?
Josh Miller: As far as being too much?
Either too much or too emotional? Anything outside of what we got to see?
Josh Miller: I don’t think we ever, Patrick, maybe I’m wrong, but because we got the thumbs up from Universal and because the gooey emotional stuff was always part of the pitch, we just tried to push both. Like, how TV Christmas special can we make this emotionally, and then how John Wick-y can we make the action?
Pat Casey: Certain things we were almost afraid to bring up even in the pitch phase of like, would people embrace [certain story elements that are too spoiler-y to share]. But sort of the Tinkerbell moment, if you will, where everybody has to believe in Santa. We were like, are people gonna go for this or is this too ridiculous? And I remember telling David Leitch about it in our first lunch and he was like, I love it. We were like, “Ah, Ha, yes!” They are embracing the silliness of this. This is great.
MAJOR VIOLENT NIGHT SPOILER INCOMING
In the flashback sequence where we see the origin of Santa, is he a Viking?
Josh Miller: Yes.
Josh Miller: We never say the word but we’re from Minnesota, which is Viking country, and then Tommy’s from Norway, which is where Vikings in Minnesota came from. But that was like a separate movie idea we’d had that we were like, maybe we should just mash that up with our Die Hard thing. When we mentioned it to Leitch in that first lunch we had pitching the concept, that was another one where we weren’t [sure]. Was this gonna seem too outside the box? And he was like, Oh, my God, I love that. So we were like, alright! Well, it’s in the movie
Pat Casey: Yeah that was an idea we had some Christmases ago, and got all excited about [discussing] let’s make an epic historical fantasy about how this Viking became Santa Claus. How he got reindeer and all this stuff. And we were like, this is great. That was even before Sonic and then coming to the realization of like, God, this movie would be crazy expensive. They’ll never go for this. Who knows? If VIOLENT NIGHT is a big enough hit, then perhaps.
Josh Miller: Or like we can hint at it in a much lower-budget movie. But that’s another one where the team just ran with it. We always had that as his backstory. That his signature weapon was a war hammer. This isn’t a spoiler because it’s something we didn’t write, and I think it was Tommy and the art and production team who came up with the detail that if you look closely, Santa’s sleigh is actually a repurposed Viking longship that you can read whatever context into that of his backstory because we don’t get into it. There was actually more backstory in the movie that got cut both for time and pacing, but also the idea of maybe we will get a sequel and you don’t want to blow too much or paint yourself into too many corners.
Pat Casey: Hopefully, audiences will come out of this one wanting to know more about Santa’s backstory because I think we got enough in there to intrigue. There are too many questions left to answer.
Were there any type of issues that you had while writing VIOLENT NIGHT? How do you guys work together?
Josh Miller: This was another charmed process. At this point in our career, because it was an original idea, it was certainly the most us thing we’d been hired to write recently. So, in that sense, it was really liberating. It was kind of like, “What ideas do we have? That’s in the movie!” At least in the script phrase…
Pat Casey: Because we didn’t really have to run anything by anyone, which was great. The ability to make big cuts without even having to run anything by anybody. We had a whole subplot that, at the last minute, we were like, this is too much. We’ll make it go away. No one from the production ever even found out it existed. It was great.
Josh Miller: The reason that allowed us to do that even more, aside from it being an original idea and not adaptation, or a thing that we were hired to write that the studio already had, was also the fact that…if you remember back in, this was March 2020, COVID had just started. But, at that point, the industry still thought there might be a writer’s strike at the beginning of May. So it was kind of like, can you guys have this script done in like four weeks? And we’re like, we’ll certainly try.
Pat Casey: We can if everybody stays out of our way.
Josh Miller: But that’s the thing. There wasn’t time for people to weigh in. Granted, once it was done, and lots of notes then, but that initial draft that went to the studio was a rare experience where life helped us out.
Pat Casey: Though it was also a bit of a challenge. It was just the very beginning of the big lockdown, and everybody was losing their minds and we had to really focus on the script. So it was both a blessing and a curse. There was a lot on our minds, but the blessing was like, we couldn’t even think about all that because we really had to focus on Santa killing people.
Josh Miller: Everyone else was worried about other things.
Do you have some projects in the works? What’s next for you guys?
Josh Miller: Yeah, the two things that we are allowed to talk about. One is Sonic 3. That movie’s existence is not a secret, and the other is another video game adaptation of a game called It Takes Two that just came out last year and won a lot of Game of the Year awards. I hope everyone knows about it. It’s a really great game, I guess, for readers who are learning about it for the first time. You should definitely check it out. It’s really unique. You have to play it two-player, which I guess maybe for some people sounds less enjoyable, but it’s great. It’s super fun.
Pat Casey: We’re writing that for Amazon and we got Dwayne Johnson as executive producer. We’re pretty excited about it and think it’s gonna be pretty good.
VIOLENT NIGHT is only in theaters on December 2, 2022. To learn more, check out our review.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.