“Christmas dies tonight!”

Violent Night is a 2022 Universal Pictures production directed by Tommy Wirkola. Starring John Leguizamo, David Harbour, Beverly D’Angelo, and Leah Brady along with Alexis Louder and Alex Hassell, this holiday movie mash-up is written by Josh Miller and Pat Casey.

It’s Christmas Eve, and a cynical and sour Saint Nick (Harbour) has had it. The cruelty, solipsistic selfishness, and avarice of modern man has made him sick to his stomach, but he still has a job to do. To complete his annual task, he’s come to rely on the liquid lubrication of a thorough alcoholic haze. After a pit stop at a bar to pound shots and pee, he’s off to the next destination on his list, that of the corrupt Senator Lightstone (D’Angelo), who is hosting her mostly-odious family for the holiday. Suddenly, her security is overwhelmed by a squad of special-forces types led by Scrooge (Leguizamo), who has a bone to pick with the beleaguered and beset Senator and intends to vent his wrath on Lightstone, her children, and grandchildren.

When a panicked Trudy (Brady) makes contact with Santa, it stirs something in him he thought long dead. She’s on his “nice” list. His shriveled heart grows three times its size and he resolves to save her. Santa goes to town on the naughty.  

Can Santa save Trudy and her family? Will he be able to stay sober enough to stop Scrooge’s sordid schemes? Now that he’s rekindled his own holiday spirit, Can he teach the Lightstones the true meaning of Christmas? See Violent Night and have yourself a very merry, murdery Christmas.

David Harbour is perfectly cast as the disheveled and disgruntled Saint Nick. His scruffy beard and shambling bulk belie the bear-like power of the barbarian that hides behind his furrowed brow. Quick with quips, facile and ferocious, his Santa dispatches his foes with zeal and ever-more-inventive means. However, there is a warm soul within the brute and it is increasingly on display with every scene he shares with Brady.

John Leguizamo’s Scrooge isn’t quite a mustache-twirling villain, but if he had a set of train tracks, he’d lash the Lighthouses to the rails in a second, and he’d do it with a sublime smile This is a role he seems to take great glee in. He conveys a suitably dark sense of menace and is quite professional in his demeanor, which makes it very entertaining to watch that demeanor crumble as his flawless plans are foiled by the impossible.

Beverly D’Angelo’s Gertrude Lighthouse is just a monster. Cold and calculating, imperious and ill-tempered, she dominates her monstrous brood. Her face-turn in the final reel is a little hard to believe, but D’Angelo sells it.

Leah Brady plays Trudy with an impish charm. Her belief in jolly Saint Nick carries her through thick and thin; when she discovers Santa is real, her face explodes with joy. Her scenes with Harbour are simply adorable. She’s got tremendous chemistry with him and it’s fair to say she carries a good chunk of the movie. Trudy is wily and Brady gives her believable guile and remarkable grace under pressure.

Violent Night is a silly, savage, severely splattery, sentimental, and strangely heartfelt film. It’s a mash-up of SO many elements lifted from different movies. Pieces come from both Die Hard 1 and 2, Bad Santa, Home Alone, Under Siege, Bad Lieutenant, You’re Next, the first Purge, and any number of others. That’s not to say it’s a pale imitation of those features, rather Violent Night takes those ingredients and makes its own special stew from them.

Beyond those derivative devices, there is a fragment of a nugget of a damn fine idea at work in the heart of Violent Night. In 1983, author Piers Anthony started a series called The Incarnations of Immortality. Book one, On a Pale Horse, is about a suicidal young man who accidentally shoots Death instead. Death has arrived early, and the young man is compelled to take his job, continuing on as the Grim Reaper. Something very similar is at work here: Santa is a job, a title, an office. At the start of the film, Nick is very much tired of the job, a job he’s had for a very long time. Glimpses of his pre-Claus past are interspersed through the murder and mayhem, and they’re fascinating, real “Oh, duh!” moments.

Violent Night is filled to the gills with cartoonish, over-the-top violence that is often telegraphed well in advance. There are some continuity errors due to that cartoonish nature when some of the consequences of that violence are dropped in subsequent scenes. It is particularly glaring in one sequence. There are really no surprises for the viewer in Violent Night. It is a well-made, fun but unchallenging, and somewhat predictable movie. Horrible, horrible people get what’s coming to them; Santa works names off the naughty list one by one; a little girl learns to have faith in herself, and a family’s bonds are re-kindled. It’s a twisted, violent Christmas movie, but it’s still a Christmas movie.

This reviewer hopes that this film does well enough to warrant a sequel. Nick’s story and the world that his story suggests is intriguing and could shoulder other features.

Violent Night is in theatres now.

By Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.