By Samuel M Acosta
The very idea of combining “Die Hard” with Santa Claus is something that any reasonable person would laugh out of the room. The addition of having an actor as relevant as David Harbour portraying Santa makes this absurd idea seem just plain stupid. Yet, somehow, “Violent Night” takes what should be an awful idea and turns it into one of the most entertaining holiday movies made in the past decade.
“Violent Night” follows Santa Claus as he struggles to find any joy in his work. Drunk and depressed, Santa finds himself delivering presents to the Lightstone family, one of the richest families in the country. Things go awry, however, when a group of mercenaries attack the family’s compound and threaten the lives of the youngest Lightstone, Trudy (Leah Brady). Now, Santa must do whatever it takes to save the Lightstone family and find a bit of the Christmas magic that he has lost over the years.
I thought this movie would be so bad that it’s entertaining. Instead, I was blown away by how absolutely wonderful this film was. While it is full of cringey and cliche jokes, they are delivered in a way that makes you want more. The action is satisfyingly brutal and even finds a way to deliver perfectly timed comedic moments. The film knowingly took all of the audience’s assumptions and molded them into memorable movie moments.
David Harbour kills it as Santa, and while I was skeptical about him at first, his portrayal is now one of my favorites. This fresh take on Santa being weathered by the growing selfish nature of the world that contradicts the very spirit of Christmas feels genuine. Watching jolly old Saint Nick down pints of beer while complaining about kids has the double-edged effect of being hilarious while also handing us an emotional weight of where this character exists mentally. This front loading of characterization at the beginning of the movie makes the story feel so much more full as Trudy Lightstone brings warmth back to Santa Claus. It is something that I haven’t seen done in quite this way and I love every second of it.
The villains of this movie are pretty bland in comparison, but they aren’t necessarily bad. These mercenaries all have festive code names, such as Candy Cane or Gingerbread, and they are led by Scrooge, played by John Leguizamo. While Scrooge is a one-dimensional villain who hates Christmas and therefore hates Santa, it fits with the type of film that this is and allows us more time with Santa and Trudy. So while these aren’t the most inspired villains, they serve their purpose.
The action in this movie is superb, though not for the faint of stomach. “Violent Night” does not pull any of its punches, and neither does Santa. There are many bloody and gruesome fights throughout the film that can be viewed as gratuitous. For those who do enjoy this type of action, you will definitely enjoy what this film offers. For those who don’t, even if you might find yourself closing your eyes at certain moments, you will still find other things to love.
What is odd about “Violent Night” is that, despite the drunken Santa and excessive violence, somehow it is overflowing with Christmas spirit. In between blunt force trauma and brutal stabbings are moments that give you that same warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you drink hot cocoa by the fire and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There is something charming about not only watching ordinary people find their Christmas spirit but even Santa himself.
The main avenue for this feeling is the wonderful performance of Leah Brady as Trudy, who brings such a convincing level of genuine innocence that we want to believe in Santa just for her sake. Her belief not only motivates and influences her family but is the main source of healing for Santa. The relationship between Trudy and Santa, which primarily happens over a walkie-talkie, is so wholesome and sweet that it made me smile in every scene. Her innocence also brings a lot of comedic relief, as Trudy makes her own “Home Alone” style kill zone that brutally takes out some of the mercenaries.
While this film might not be for everyone due to its R-rated violence and language, “Violent Night” is a holiday film that I will be coming back to for years to come. It’s action-packed, it’s fun, and it kickstarted my Christmas spirit. I definitely recommend giving this a try, even if you think it might be stupid. I think you will find yourself pleasantly surprised.
I give “Violent Night” a 9/10
“Violent Night” is now playing in a theater near you
Samuel M Acosta is a Senior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures.