Some Internet postings have claimed that Violent Night is a mash-up of Home Alone and Die Hard which seems redundant as they’re both Christmas and siege invasion films. Also, Violent Night has Santa Claus as an actual protagonist character. This is kind of trying to do it all at once, a cynical gross out Christmas movie, yet with splashes of heartfelt, and frankly unearned, earnestness, and a sampling of holiday themed ultraviolence. It works best when it lets Santa go unhinged upon terrorist invaders. When it tries to make the audience care about the people being robbed, not so much. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Santa Claus, of course people are going to cheer for him instead!
Santa Claus (David Harbour) is on his nightly voyage across the world to deliver toys to everyone. Although he has started to become cynical about his job saying the world runs on greed, and all he does is dish out gift cards and videogames and cash. One stop on his route is the rich estate of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D'Angelo), who is hosting Christmas Eve with her family. Her son, Jason (Alex Hassell), arrives with his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder) and their daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady). There’s also Gertrude’s daughter, Alva (Edi Patterson), her son Bert (Alexander Elliot), and her second husband, Morgan (Cam Gigandet). While the kids are squabbling over inheritance, a gang of crooks descends upon the compound to rob the family of their fortune, led by the man who calls himself Scrooge (John Leguizamo). After the reindeer get spooked by gunfire, Santa is stuck at the house and decides to save the nice girl and her family by taking out the terrorist goons himself.
The film cribs from Die Hard, especially the master criminal looking to get into a safe at Christmas is almost exactly like what happens in that action and holiday classic. But when John McClane was just a regular guy which made him relatable, putting Santa into it spins gleefully off into the realm of the absurd. Opening with a scene of Santa getting drunk and vomiting over the side of his sleigh recalls another nihilistic Christmas classic Bad Santa. Harbour is awesome as the action-hero Santa and it’s quite funny to see Santa bloodied, messed up, and kicking ass. The story even gives Santa a barbarian badass conqueror backstory which is why he can engage in violence because it is in his nature. There are moments where he uses “Christmas Magic” to get out of jams but even he doesn’t understand how it works. The best magic moment is when Santa goes up the chimney with a bad guy the result is just ridiculously messy.
The film works well with crazy Christmas themed action, it stumbles when it delves into the backstory and emotional world of the kidnap victims. The stuff with the girl and her believing in Santa is played almost entirely straightforward like a cliche holiday special. There is a great bit when Trudy sets up Home Alone style traps while hiding in the attic but the actual results of throwing bowling balls and nails to the face are realistically violent, instead of how cartoony in Home Alone. There is a lot of dull stuff about the family dynamics while Alva is trying to impress their mother. The full name of the kid Bert is Bertrude, which kind of sounds like Gertrude, but, as Linda points out angrily, that isn’t a real name. The parents for Trudy trying to stay together for the kid is kind of a drag and eats up a bit too much screentime at the start when the best stuff is Santa violence. D’Angelo as the matriarch is shamelessly nasty towards anyone which is good for some laughs. Alva is an irritating suck up, her kid is an annoying influencer, and Gigandet as Morgan plays it amusingly stupid.
As the leader of the gang of thieves and terrorists, Leguizamo as Scrooge gets in some good rants about how much he hates Christmas as a villain in a Christmas movie should. When his henchmen start to believe that he’s really facing off against Santa Claus, his dismissive and annoyed reactions to them believing in Santa is hilarious. In one fun scene, a henchman digs through Santa’s magic sack and pulls out large packages of toys which wouldn’t all fit into the one sack and Scrooge writes it off as a “trick sack”. The action scenes are very kinetic and the messier and louder they are, the better it is. When Santa goes up against a bunch of goons with a sledgehammer it is satisfyingly crunchy. Also, when Santa digs into his magic sack for items to use he’s frustrated all he’s pulling out are gift cards and videogames, nothing he can use to bludgeon an opponent in battle. The more the action leans into the Santa absurdity, the better it gets.
The component pieces of Violent Night may be cobbled together from other, better films, but it’s funny to watch. Somehow seeing Santa bleed, swear and break bones is enjoyable. Harbour and Leguizamo elevate Violent Night to trashy, camp action farce and a bloody serving of Christmas Spirit.
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Cam Gigandet, Leah Brady and Beverly D'Angelo