The Spool / Movies
Violent Night brings holiday cheer and crushed skulls down the chimney
Santa Claus gets the Die Hard treatment with this dumb but fun action comedy.
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Santa Claus gets the Die Hard treatment with this dumb but fun action comedy.

It’s Christmas time, and a man at the breaking point finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. But he isn’t retired cop John McClane this time. Instead, it’s Saint Nick with a sledgehammer he’d like to swing into your bowl full of jelly. The premise of Violent Night is simple (Die Hard but with Santa), and the filmmakers mostly pull off the kill-fest thanks to some game performers and one inspired sequence.  

David Harbour’s long and respectable career took off thanks playing the broken but loveable small-town sheriff, Jim Hopper, in Stranger Things. So, it was only a matter of time until he got his shot playing a broken but loveable Santa Claus in a studio film. He begins the film alone in an English pub, drowning his sorrows with a pint, lamenting the end of an era when kids believed in holiday cheer and didn’t fall prey to the empty calories of late-stage Capitalism.  

Director Tommy Wirkola thrives on movies with insane premises like his enjoyable Nazi-zombie Dead Snow series. He’s ably aided by writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller, coming in hot from writing both Sonic the Hedgehog films). The team is in their element with Harbour on screen. They know how to use his skills as a physical comedian. Eschewing the finesse of a John Wick, they instead let Harbour stumble in and through fight scenes.  

Violent Night (Universal Pictures)
John Leguizamo wants to show you what he got for Christmas! (Universal Pictures)

Like Bruce Willis, he’s not afraid to play an action hero who gets the shit kicked out of him. Even with Super Claus powers like going up and down any chimney, Harbour’s Santa is a bloodied and bruised mess for most of the film. He’s a guy who’s just doing his job and wants to go home to his wife. It makes him the most realistic character in the film, despite being a magical entity.  

It’s the other characters and storylines where the filmmakers drop their jingle bells. Who knows why Harbour isn’t in every frame of this movie? The actual plot goes into motion when Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell) takes his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), and their daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady), to his mother’s palatial estate for Christmas. We never learn exactly what the mother does, but Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) is important enough to curse out a Senator on the phone and have $300 Million in a secret vault in the basement.  

It’s not a good present for everyone, but for action movie fans who prefer some carnage with their eggnog, Violent Night makes a nice stocking stuffer.

That vault is what interests Scrooge (John Leguizamo) and his gang of machine gun-toting henchmen. They take the family hostage while they break into the vault to steal the money. Unfortunately for them, Santa happens to fall asleep drunk in a massage chair in the same mansion. When he wakes up and finds himself without an escape route–the reindeer get scared and leave without him–he has no choice. It’s time to kill lots of bad guys in a gruesome fashion.  

No one in the larger ensemble ruins the film by any means. Still, only a few of the henchmen and the always incredible Edi Patterson (she plays the sister so obsessed with Gertrude and her money she named her son Bertrude) seem to know what movie they’re in and level up the ridiculousness.  

Violent Night (Universal Pictures)
Alexis Louder and David Harbour rock around the Christmas tree. (Universal Pictures)

The biggest disappointment of the film is Leguizamo as the main villain. He’s more than capable of playing the over-the-top evil clown this movie needs. Unfortunately, the script forces him to push down the theatrics to angrily mumble a bunch of bad Christmas puns instead. They eventually unveil the sources of his Scrooge-like behavior, but it doesn’t enrich the movie or his performance.  

There’s also Brady, who gives a respectable kid performance. Alas, she’s only there to motivate Santa to help the family and remember why he got into this whole Christmas thing in the first place. She’s primarily a functional character, but she does get a moment to shine. In the film’s best sequence, she helps it pay homage to Home Alone with a hilariously gory spoof of Kevin McCallister’s famous booby traps. She sets a series of traps involving bowling balls, large needles, and a sticky floor for some baddies. The results are grisly, and one of the few moments the film uses violence for sharp comedic effect. It also proves Kevin may have been a vicious sociopath.  

Violent Night probably won’t go down as a holiday classic. That said, it could still hold a nice place on the shelf next to other macabre Christmas oddities like 1984’s Silent Night Deadly Night or my personal favorite, Santa’s Slay, starring professional wrestler Bill Goldberg as a demon Santa. It’s not a good present for everyone, but for action movie fans who prefer some carnage with their eggnog, Violent Night makes a nice stocking stuffer.

Violent Night comes down the chimney swinging in theatres starting on December 2.

Violent Night Trailer: