Speaking personally, I tend to prefer the darker, more violent, and just plain weird fare in my Christmas movies. My holy trinity is Home Alone, Elf and Bad Santa, but I also love me some Krampus, Die Hard and The Nightmare Before Christmas (it counts). I’ve seen a lot of crazy movies this time of year, but never one that really made me believe in the holiday spirit. But much like John Leguizamo at the end of Violent Night, I can now say with confidence that I believe in Santa Claus.
Violent Night very much lives up to its title but it takes a little bit to get there. One main arc of the film is regarding Santa’s crisis of faith. He’s tired of seeing how commercial the holiday has become and how everyone’s become obsessed with greed. He even refers to most children as “little junkies”, itching for their next present to rip open. The man is in a bad place but still trying his best to do his job. It’s just balanced out with a lot of alcohol and whining, as well as some unfortunate projectile vomit from atop his sleigh.
Another integral component of Violent Night is little Trudy. She’s a truly sweet little girl who just wants her parents to be happy together again. Unfortunately, her dad is part of the Lightstone family, and they’re crazy rich. Which naturally translates to some really obnoxious, horrible people that feel entitled to everything. Her aunt Alva is dating Morgan Steel, a lame actor with some muscles and delusions of grandeur. Then there’s Bert, or Bertrude, who loves to post cringey stories to his social media. But perhaps most offensive is her grandma and namesake, Gertrude. She’s foul mouthed, ill tempered and pits her children against each other for her love and money. Luckily Trudy’s parents aren’t all that bad, but being around the rest of the family has soured them.
Enter the villain, John Leguizamo’s Mr. Scrooge and his band of merry criminals, all replete with holiday themed code names like Tinsel and Candy Cane. They pose as caterers and effortlessly make their move, murdering security and staff in one fell swoop. They’re after a truly big haul, 300 million hidden in Gertrude’s fortified vault.
You might wonder how Santa comes into play. Put simply, he’s there delivering presents when he gets distracted by some delicious homemade cookies and some top shelf alcohol (it pairs much better than skim milk). He reclines in a vibrating chair and starts to get really relaxed (okay, maybe Santa has an alcohol problem) when suddenly one of the goons bursts into the room, blasting bullets everywhere. Which of course sends his reindeer fleeing, and effectively strands Santa in the warzone. Calling him a reluctant hero is a bit generous, but luckily Santa is very good with found objects as weapons, and starts to get in a bloody groove.
After mopping the floor with some well armed thugs, Santa is still getting ready to vamoose, when he spies poor, terrified Trudy through a window. He can’t leave the innocent girl (he confirms she’s on the Nice list) to this holiday horror. So he stays to finish the job, thinking it’ll only be a few more Naughty list nominees. Sadly, Santa isn’t the luckiest, and things quickly get very complicated. Luckily, Trudy has a walkie talkie, and after Santa takes a walkie from one of his victims, he’s able to get intel from the little secret agent. It only works because everybody scoffs when they hear a little girl talking to an imaginary person.
The movie has a lot of fun playing with adults’ belief (or lack thereof) in Santa Claus. Even when they see impossible feats like Santa’s endless bag of holding, or how he zooms up a chimney with a touch of his nose, they still can’t quite believe their eyes. And when some goons do start to wonder if he’s legit, they get barked down by a furious Leguizamo, told they’re just idiots. Without going into details, Scrooge blames Christmas for ruining his life, and he’s more than happy to murder a Santa who’s in the way of his payday.
One of my favorite elements of Violent Night is Santa’s backstory. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say there’s a reason Santa is so capable at committing acts of extreme violence, and it’s such a fascinating tidbit that I hope we get a sequel or prequel that goes into further detail about how Santa came to be. Even if we don’t, David Harbour does a masterful job of conveying someone who’s tormented by how the world has changed, yet still eager to hold onto a sliver of hope in the midst of chaos.
But perhaps you just want to hear about the “violent” part of Violent Night? Rest assured, the action more than lives up to the hype. To several classic holiday songs, Santa hacks, slashes, strangles and destroys all in his path with reckless abandon. Especially when he comes across a sledgehammer, and wields it like a true maestro. For a big guy, Santa is surprisingly nimble, though he’s not afraid to look clumsy while leaping into action. Best of all, Santa is far from immortal, and has to get creative with some ribbon and wrapping paper to dress his own wounds.
It’s not just Santa that paints the town red. Little Trudy channels her best Macaulay Culkin and Home Alone’s the crap out of some very naughty little elves, to hilarious effect. And Scrooge’s goons do all sorts of horrible things as well. Most notable is one codenamed Krampus, who is eager to use a Nutcracker to actually crush someone’s testicles, and is happy as a child on Christmas Day when finally told he can kill all the hostages. It’s a gory, wild, blood-soaked spectacle, and you’ll find yourself rooting for Old Saint Nick and laughing like a maniac. The two best lines to capture the essence of the movie are “Bah Humbug, motherfucker!” and “Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!”.
Though Harbour’s Santa doesn’t fully understand the magic he wields, he does a spectacular job of making the holiday relevant and fun again. This is honestly a movie that should have been a mess, but somehow manages to work. Director Tommy Wirkola, who I only know for the miserable Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, manages to craft not just an enjoyable action movie, but one of my new favorite holiday classics. While I wouldn’t take a young or impressionable child to see it, Violent Night will bring true joy to your inner child. A wonderful holiday present for all!