Santa Slays in Violent Night

A new spin on Santa celebrates the season with blood and gore


Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The villainous mercenary Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo) interrogates a captured Santa Claus (David Harbor) in a scene from Violent Night, a holiday horror comedy now both in theatres and streaming. While the film won’t knock anyone’s stockings off, it’s a fun and memorable holiday romp full of holiday magic, a hammer-wielding St. Nick, and a whole bunch of dead bodies.

Paxtyn Mangus, Staff Writer

Christmas movies traditionally involve three things: Christmas Day (or Eve), holiday figures like Santa, and themes of family coming together. While all of these components are present in Violent Night, the film a very different yet still enjoyable sleigh ride. The titular violence makes this movie one of the top movies in the US right now, and though it won’t be on everyone’s Christmas list, it’s a great two-hour treat.

The movie stars well-known actor David Harbor as the jolly fat man himself who’s… well, not so jolly in this iteration.  Santa is separated from Mrs. Claus, feels angry at a world filled with commercialism and greed, and escapes his blue Christmas by spiking the eggnog of every house he visits. In this film, Santa is not only real but uncomfortably human, belching at the bartop and throwing up over the side of his sleigh after drinking too much.

Surprisingly, Santa is not the main feature for the first third of the movie. Instead, it focuses on the Lightstones, an extremely rich and self-centered family. Not all things are merry and bright between estranged Linda Matthews (Alexis Louder) and Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell) as they drive themselves and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) to the Lightstone ancestral home for Christmas Eve. Linda wants to divorce Jason for spending all his time working at the company that made the family rich, while he promises that he has a plan to get out from under his mother’s thumb.

If this sounds like a Hallmark movie setup, that’s the point–the first part of the film is a brilliant parody of saccharine Chrismas movies that all look and feel the same, down to the way the actors and scenery are shot. Linda, Jason, and Trudy arrive at the house and are immediately antagonized by Jason’s crude and vain sister (played to perfection by Edi Patterson), her supermodel gold-digging boyfriend, and her Insta-famous twit of a son. Add cantankerous and judgemental mother Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo) and the movie creates a hilariously uncomfortable domestic drama.

As Santa sneaks down the Lighthouse chimney to enjoy Trudy’s cookies (and raid the liquor cabinet), the movie adds the promised violence to the night. Each member of the Lightstone domestic staff, each with an ironically festive name like “Candy Cane” and “Krampus,” assassinates the family’s security team in an attempt to steal $300 million dollars from Gertrude. To do this, their leader “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) holds the family hostage to try to get them to spill the code to the safe.

Santa (David Harbour) stands breathless with a sledgehammer, trying to defeat the soldiers to save the Christmas holiday. While the movie is a lot of fun, it’s also surprisingly heartwarming, with touching moments of family togetherness and believing in the goodness of the Christmas season. But make no mistake–this film earns it’s R-rating with headshots, explosions, and even a candy cane stabbing. (Image courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Trudy uses her walkie-talkie to get in touch with Santa Claus so he can save the family. Meeting Trudy, Nick gets hope for humanity and can tell Trudy is a nice girl and decides to pause his Christmas mission to save this family. Nick channels his past as the most brutal Viking warrior of all time and starts taking the mercenaries off his naughty list–permanently.

The storytelling isn’t the main feature of this comedic crime thriller–it’s laid out as predictably as an Advent calendar. Rather, the terrific character work and interesting character choices make the movie a must-watch. Harbor and Leguizamo take turns seeing who can chew the most scenery, with their over-the-top acting fitting the cartoonish plot. Beverly D’Angelo of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation fame also stands out as the conniving and wicked Lightstone matriarch, but the clear standout of this cast is Trudy’s actor Leah Brady, who can play both smart and naive at the same time. She shows off her skills in emotional scenes with her parents and in action scenes where she proves to be a formidable foe.

While this could have been a cheap Christmas comedy, the cinematography for this film is great. while the CG reindeer look iffy at times, the effects created to show off Santa’s magic blend seamlessly into the world of the movie. The set dressing is always interesting, setting St. Nick against complex backgrounds reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. Then there’re the very anti-Rockwell gore effects. The blood in the film does not disappoint, with mostly practical effects that look great and made the theatre collectively squirm at times (trust me, you aren’t prepared for the nutcracker scene).

While it’s no It’s a Wonderful Life (or even Die Hard), this movie is really great for those that love a mix of gore, comedy, and Christmas. The film takes a by-the-numbers story and elevates it with great comedy, amazing characters, and a sense of fun that too many films have lacked this year. This film knows exactly what it is: a two-hour holiday distraction to get audiences with a darker sense of humor into the season. Check it out in theatres or through select streaming services, and you may find that it joins Elf and Home Alone in your annual holiday film collection.