‘Violent Night’ Rings in the Christmas Season With Blood-Soaked Cheer

‘Tis the season to bust heads and break necks in “Violent Night,” which delivers on the fantasy of Santa Clause taking names in an action movie. No, this is not one of those thrillers where characters are simply dressed like Jolly Old St. Nick. It truly is Santa Claus decimating villains. Somehow it works. This is an absurdly entertaining holiday movie with the attitude of an action romp. Director Tommy Wirkola is only out to impress by proving this feat can be accomplished. Skillfully silly experiments like this are needed amid a season of big award contenders and gargantuan franchises. There are audiences not going out for transcendence, but to enjoy some popcorn while watching Santa teach us how to kill with a candy cane.

These are uncertain times and Santa Claus (David Harbour) feels the despair. No one believes in magic anymore and the kids are all asking for cash on their wish lists. While riding his sleigh with the famous reindeers, Santa now mixes his holiday snacks with plenty of alcohol. On this Christmas Eve, the wealthy Lightstone family gathers at their Greenwich, Connecticut mansion. Among the gathering clan is Jason (Alex Hassell), who is having marital problems with wife Linda (Alexis Louder), to the sorrow of their young daughter Trudy (Leah Brady). Jason is at least nice when compared to menacing matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) and her other spawn like cruel Alva (Edi Patterson), who is married to desperate moocher and B-grade action actor Morgan (Cam Gigandet). Their son, Bert (Alexander Elliot) is a complete social media whore. The festivities are soon crashed by a criminal gang leader who goes by Scrooge (John Leguizamo), who seeks to rob the Lightstone’s vault, where $300 million awaits. Just by chance, Santa has passed out on a couch in the mansion and will have to tap into his killer instincts to save Christmas.

Bad action movies are infamous blenders of other ideas we’ve seen before. Yet “Violent Night” knows how to steal from “Bad Santa,” “Die Hard,” and “Home Alone” to make an action ride that can at least stand next to cult delights like “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” The screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller almost feels written in a flush of wicked excitement as they satirize the rich and make fun of every holiday slogan. Santa still finds milk and cookies at the homes he visits, but feels compelled to dump the dairy for whiskey. Scrooge and his henchmen, who would all be at home in an ‘90s action title, are also in the holiday spirit, using code names like Candy Cane (Mitra Suri), Sugarplum (Stephanie Sy), Gingerbread (André Eriksen) and Krampus (Brendan Fletcher). They threaten to crush someone’s testicles with a nutcracker while Santa learns the star on a Christmas tree can cause real damage if used properly. Christmas jams are all over the soundtrack even when Santa must wield a hammer to crush skulls and use ice skates for more carnage. 

A movie like “Violent Night” taps into our collective sense as an audience that we need something trashy to laugh at. From the beginning nothing is sacred. A drunk Santa pukes over his sleigh on an unfortunate witness and his power to go up the chimney by twitching his nose can later be used to truly wreck an opponent. Like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” he’s just doing it to save the Lightstones and make his way through the criminals taking the mansion hostage. If Santa were indeed real, we would expect him to be a raging hero when the need arises. The filmmakers have remembered to include his naughty or nice list too, here as a golden scroll. Impressionable younger viewers who still believe in the jolly bearded Santa might not be appropriate viewers, but this is made for the adults anyway. Trudy cheerfully conversing with Santa through a walkie talkie can be seen as a sly jab at all the rambunctious kids parents need to satisfy with gifts in a few weeks, while Santa gets all the credit. Later Trudy gets her chance to do a “Home Alone” on the intruders but with the carnage increased. Wirkola never gets too morbid, however, because he knows that would kill the comedic effect. We get just enough to gasp and laugh.

Wirkola and team even come up with the perfect excuse to make Santa a skillful action beast. Flashbacks reveal he was once a mighty warrior in some kind of Nordic past shot like a Zack Snyder outtake. John Leguizamo’s Scrooge has his own, darkly hilarious personal vendetta against Christmas that partially explains his actions. It’s all in good fun in the same way a Liam Neeson movie is good fun. In fact, this Santa is so efficient, he can also suture his own wounds and use gift wrap for bandages. You already know a Nativity scene will later form part of the antics, and there will be plenty of slow motion shots involving Santa practicing his aim on both the intruders and later their backup. If you’re the kind of viewer who recognizes titles like “Reindeer Games,” “John Wick” and “Snakes on a Plane,” then please step inside, this movie has been made for you. Any Scrooges who scoff only deserve best wishes for a happy holiday and the advice to loosen up. 

Violent Night” releases Dec. 2 in theaters nationwide.