One can’t help but wonder if Violent Night was pitched to the studio as Bad Santa meets Die Hard. Even if it wasn’t, that quote would look great on a poster. With a title like Violent Night, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the filmmakers deliver action, comedy, and mayhem. What’s surprising is that Violent Night takes itself more seriously than expected. The people behind the scenes never forget that they’re producing a movie about a barbarian Santa Claus who wields a sledgehammer. For such a tongue-in-cheek premise, though, the film has more Christmas cheer than one might anticipate.
David Harbour has starred as Hellboy and Red Guardian. Perhaps it was only a matter of time until he played the most famous red guy of all. Habour’s Santa is a grumpy alcoholic who questions why he’s still hitching the sleigh every Christmas. The answer is for kids like Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady), who’s on his nice list. The same can’t be said about the rest of Trudy’s family. Over 30 years after National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Beverly D’Angelo plays the head of the wealthy Lightstone family. Gunning for handouts are Edi Patterson’s Alva, Alexander Elliot as her influencer son, and Cam Gigandet as her actor boyfriend. Trudy’s estranged parents, played by Alex Hassell and Alexis Louder, are more concerned about mending their family when Christmas takes a dark turn.
John Leguizamo is menacing yet humorous as an intruder who goes by Mr. Scrooge. He just as easily could’ve called himself Hans Gruber. Along with his henchmen and henchwomen, Scrooge takes the family hostage while breaking into their safe. It just so happens that Santa is making a delivery there. It also turns out that despite his groggy, out-of-shape appearance, Santa is deadlier than a pissed-off Krampus. Before he was the symbol of holiday magic, Santa wasn’t such a saint on the battlefield. How did he go from bloodthirsty brute to Kris Kringle? Violent Night fails to fill that plot point in, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Harbour was tailormade to kick ass in a Santa suit.
As impaled bodies start piling up, Scrooge’s minions begin to question if this Santa is the real deal. Based on the way Harbour talks, you’d wonder if he’s the real Santa as well. That’s one of the most surprising elements of Violent Night. Blood and profanity aside, Harbour is a legitimately convincing Santa Claus. You genuinely believe this man has been doing the job for so long that he’s lost his passion for it. Between the sincerity of one little girl and a hostage crisis, that Christmas spark is lit again. Since Harbour frequently acts opposite kids on Stranger Things, it makes sense that his Santa would have a natural rapport with little Trudy. She may look sweet, but Trudy gives us the funniest Home Alone set piece since 1992.
At just under two hours, Violent Night could’ve been a little tighter. At one point, it seems like we’re heading into the climax, but there are still about 40 minutes left. Regardless, the film is never dull with director Tommy Wirkola wrapping up several inventive kills. The screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller also balances humor with heart. All the while, Harbour has the time of his life. For those always on the lookout for alternative Christmas movies, Violent Night is just the right mix of naughty and nice, but plan on receiving more of a former.