Released: 2nd December
Seen: 4th December
Two years ago on this blog, I talked about a little film called Fatman, a half-assed snore-fest that didn’t understand the fun it could’ve had with the idea “What if a bunch of mercenaries tried to kill Santa?”. It was a dull film that tried to actually answer serious questions about Santa like how can he afford to make all the toys and in general, was just not as fun as it could’ve been. It was a shitty edgelord movie made by people who seemed unwilling to commit to the inherent silliness of the idea of a bunch of mercenaries going toe to toe with jolly old Saint Nick… Violent Night, on the other hand, actually seems to understand how much fun that idea could be and goes for broke in the most delightful way.
See, Violent Night starts off like almost any Christmas movie, with a family coming together for a holiday gathering. This film uses the Lightfoot family, a wealthy business family who all constantly suck up to Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), the matriarch of the family. The other members of the Lightfoot clan on her daughters’ side includes Alva (Edi Patterson) the drunken suckup, her new husband and B movie actor Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and their son Bert (Alexander Elliot) who is an influencer. On the son’s side, we have Jason (Alex Hassell) who is considered the favourite child, his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) who only turned up in order to ensure that their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) could have a relatively normal Christmas.
While the family are exchanging unpleasantries and in general being assholes to each other, Santa Claus (David Harbour) is sneaking about upstairs just trying to drop off the present for Trudy and then leave but the plans are spoiled when a large group of henchmen, led by a man using the code name Scrooge (John Leguizamo), turn up to break into Gertrude’s vault and hold the entire family hostage. The only person who can save everyone now is the jolly fat man hiding upstairs.
Right from the start, Violent Night does one simple little thing that shows that it understands why this idea is a fun one… it’s made very clear from the moment the film starts that this isn’t just some guy who gets paid by the government to deliver presents, this is the real, not kidding around Santa with special Christmas magic that can’t really be explained (Indeed, even Santa in this movie doesn’t quite understand how his own magic works which is absolutely perfect). That allows them to actually have some fun with the character, they can have Santa just fly up a chimney at will or pull endless amounts of weaponry from a magic bag and it’s fine. There’s no need to explain Santa, we know the elements of the character and his ‘powers’ so using those in an action movie scenario is just fun.
The bulk of Violent Night itself has certainly got a Die Hard feel to it, what with Santa slowly creeping through a massive building full of mercenaries and taking them out one by one, and yes there’s a touch of Home Alone traps and even a touch of those cheesy Hallmark Christmas romance films in here but it’s all blended up in a way that gives Violent Night its own specific tone that feels perfect for this time of year. There’s a strong feeling of cynicism that covers the entire film, calling out the insanity of capitalistic greed and how the poor don’t get the same kind of holidays as those with money, but the more the film goes on the more it scratches away at that thick protective layer to reveal a surprisingly sweet story that will end up making you at least a little emotional.
Of course, that thick layer of darkness is where a ton of the fun lies because on top of Violent Night going all in on the Santa element, it goes all in on the violence. People just get fucked up by sledgehammers, guns, Christmas decorations, nutcrackers and even a glorious icicle impalement or two. It’s absolutely over the top and brutal, this isn’t going for slapstick comedy but just jaw-dropping intensity that’s made funny due to it being done by Santa Claus while a cheery Christmas carol plays in the background. Even at its most bloody and violent, the fact it’s happening because of Santa turns the violence into comic gold that will have you howling.
It also doesn’t hurt that this cast is stacked with heavy hitters, particularly Beverly D’Angelo as the bitchy matriarch who just revels in every withering putdown she gets to throw out. John Leguizamo is clearly having an absolute ball getting to be an absolute grinch and throws out some of the darkest lines in Violent Night. Holding everything together is the incomparable David Harbour as Santa who honestly just sells the entire idea. This isn’t a bad Santa or an evil Santa or even a killer Santa, it’s just Santa who is starting to wonder if his job is even worth doing and will do what it takes to defend a girl on his nice list. He’s an undeniable badass with a dark past, but underneath it all Harbour holds onto that sense of joy and love that we associate with the man in red. This is the same Santa you know and love, he’s just having a tough night.
Violent Night is a glorious alternative Christmas film that knows exactly what it wants to do and completely commits to it. It delivers a dark and joyful time that feels a little more appropriate now for a time when Christmas is fraught with the potential to turn bad at any second due to another plague or some other disaster. It might look dark at first, but there’s love buried under it all and that genuine sweet warmth will carry you through. It might not be a film for absolutely everyone (I don’t think little kids need to see Santa wailing on someone with a sledgehammer) but it’s definitely something special to liven up this time of year.