It’s Christmas Eve in the Lightstone mansion, and all is not calm. Machine gun-toting baddies are holding the Lightstone family—including rich matriarch Gertude (Beverly D’Angelo), son Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder), daughter Trudy (Leah Brady), and other family members—hostage, seeking $300 million in stolen company profits as a payoff. All the security guards have been violently dispatched. At one point, Jason’s family jewels are threatened with a very large wooden nutcracker.
Who’s gonna stop all this terror on the night before Christmas?
David Harbour, of course. Aka Santa Claus.
With this concept firmly in place, Tommy Wirkola’s Violent Night takes up where other reluctant Santa movies have gone before (Bad Santa, The Santa Clause), and ups the kill count considerably. As in, you’ve never seen so many Christmas ornaments used as deadly weapons in your life.
Opening in a bar before his fabled all-night romp with reindeer and sleigh, Santa is not feeling too cheery. He bemoans the “racket” Christmas has become, what with kids’ endless demands. Downing another beer, he heads to the roof. A barmaid watches him fly off, eyes full of joy and wonder—and then he barfs over the side of the sleigh, right onto her head. (Onscreen puking is having a bit of a moment, what with the spectacular spread offered in the recent Triangle of Sadness.)
Harbour is so likable, even playing a down-and-out Santa who somehow recovers his Christmas mojo while slaughtering a bunch of lethal baddies is kind of charming. With his dad bod and “origins story” about being a tatted-up Norwegian warrior who decides to stop all his hammerin’ and killin’ and instead find his inner Christmas “magic,” he’s a natural fit.
If there’s a pitch line here, it’s probably “Home Alone x Santa Claus.” That’s it. No hard thinking involved here. If you thought Die Hard was a Christmas movie cleverly disguised as a terrorist thriller, you’ll appreciate Violent Night. The plot is as thin as a Christmas wafer, but the techno thrills are dialed up by a Norwegian director who has previously offered deconstructed, violent fairytales such as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Part of the fun, of course, is seeing how many Christmas trinkets can be turned into lethal weapons: sharpened candy canes, tree lights, ice skate blades, icicles, broken Christmas bulbs, even a balen Baby Jesus is utilized to stop terrorists in their tracks. There’s a merry ho-ho-ho quality to this escalation in violence; taken in the proper mood, you’ll want to see what comes next.
The film makes quick work announcing its pegs: daughter Trudy has just watched—and loved—Home Alone, that other Christmas movie about home intruders facing blowback by left-behind Macaulay Culkin. If you up the violence level in that movie to include wood chippers, rolling bowling balls driving nails into people’s eyes, pummeled flesh, and a few casual beheadings, it’s in the same ballpark.
Harbour, who showed he can stand head-to-toe against Demogorgons in the last season of Stranger Things, makes merry with a sledgehammer, along with anything else at hand, and there’s no cutting away from the bloodbath, which generally might not be everyone’s cup of tea this season.
John Leguizamo here is taking things a shade too seriously as the malevolent “Mr. Scrooge,” head of the gang robbing the Lightstone place. Foulmouthed, he is. D’Angelo, playing the nasty head of the family corporation, seems to have been cast in a nod to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Her other kids, all fighting for crumbs of her affection, include money-grubbing daughter Alva (Edi Patterson), clueless actor Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and their TikTok addict son. The tone of high sarcasm reminds us of The Ref, the 1984 Ted Demme Christmas film in which cat burglar Denis Leary takes Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis and the rest of an obnoxious family hostage. The revved-up insults flew fast and quick there, though not as many bullets, as I recall.
Perhaps the predictable throughline is that Santa will regain his Christmas spirit and “magic” along the way, and that this film, already drenched in buckets of blood, will try to warm your cockles with some gooey sense of redemption. It does. Try, that is. And again, depending on your mood this very odd Christmas—returning after a pandemic with the world still blinking its eyes awake in the sunlight—this may or may not be your cup of tea. It’s hard to decide whether Violent Night is a lighthearted comedy with dark undertones, or a dark, foulmouthed slab of bloody raw steak cynically slathered with a honey-sweet scoop straight out of the Frank Capra Jar of Pure Sentimentality. I’m feeling Christmasy, so I will be generous and go with the former.
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Violent Night, distributed by Universal Pictures, is now showing. (Maybe not for the kiddies.)