Tired: arguing about whether or not Die Hard counts as a Christmas movie. This clichéd debate even featured in the plot of a Netflix original Christmas romcom last year, so you know the discourse is past its prime.
Wired: writing a script that essentially remixes the plot of Die Hard but replaces John McClane with Santa Claus – yes, the real Santa Claus, complete with Christmas magic.
The latter is exactly what screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller did, using their cachet from writing 2020’s strangely successful live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie to get their wild, holiday-themed brainchild greenlit. Fast-forward a couple of years, and Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola, has finally arrived in theaters. The film delivers exactly what it promises: Santa Claus (an extremely game David Harbour) bashing people’s heads in to save some hostages, Christmas, and maybe a marriage.
In addition to Santa himself, Violent Night adds a few more ingredients to signal its Holiday Movie™ bonafides. These include a sprinkle of Christmas movie royalty stunt casting, a dash of Home Alone homage, and a dollop of Yuletide-hating villain. But what makes Violent Night an unmistakable Holiday Movie™ is its sticky-sweet, thoroughly sentimental core.
Sure, Santa’s a burnt-out alcoholic who murders a lot of people in graphic, violent ways. He commits all this homicide, however, to save a little girl named Trudy (Leah Brady) who believes in his magic. Trudy’s recently-separated parents (Alex Hassell and Alexis Louder) took her for Christmas Eve at father’s family’s house, where Trudy’s aunt (Edi Patterson) and father vie for the attention of their vicious, aloof, and filthy rich mother (Beverly D’Angelo). But the holiday goes sideways when a well-organized band of criminals takes the whole family captive. “Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) and his festively code-named associates have their sights set on the hundreds of millions of dollars in cash stored in a vault in the mansion’s basement.
The only snag in Scrooge’s plan? Santa Claus, who picked the wrong house at the wrong time, gets caught up in the fray. And this Santa has a history of violence.
Santa proceeds to kill a parade of goons with an impressive variety of Christmas decorations. And don’t worry: he puts Chekov’s candy cane, introduced in the first act, to good use by the third. (Although it should be noted, without spoilers, that Santa’s delightful preferred murder weapon isn’t Christmas-themed at all.)
Despite Violent Night‘s creative employment of props, the choreography of its action scenes leaves something to be desired. Smash, stab, kill, repeat pays diminishing returns; a few flashes of inspired (and genuinely nasty) mayhem only serve to underscore the majority of the scenes’ repetitive bluntness. The film’s overall visual style also lacks the flair needed to kick Violent Night into the next gear. Medium shot after medium shot moves the film along effectively if unimaginatively. It’s a shame that Wirkola’s visual choices rarely reflect or enhance the script’s humor and imagination.
That said, the movie’s giddily fun premise and enthusiastic cast keep Violent Night entertaining. Harbour in particular proves himself a convincing action star. (Give the man a franchise.) You’d have to be a real genre-film Grinch not to have a pretty great time watching this film. It’s nothing sick and twisted – just a good, old-fashioned, schmaltzy holiday special served up with a healthy side of ultraviolence.