Violent Night is so fun for its bloody brilliance of binding class/Christmas satire with over-the-top violence.
Published on December 8, 2022
Rating 4 /5
Violent Night almost seems like a Christmas subversion movie that writes itself. Take all the grit of Die Hard and its associations with Christmas but replace John McClaine with Santa Claus. The Christmas figure could use all his holiday-themed powers to foil a team of terrorists in an absurd manner. It’s ridiculous that it could easily be written as the background movie to another Christmas comedy. Thankfully, this film works beyond its gimmick of Santa Claus going on a killing spree, though his carnage is certainly entertaining.
David Harbour slips so easily into this disillusioned Santa Claus role that it’s easy to buy him from his first scene in a bar. He speaks openly about hating how the holidays have decayed, and he’s essentially become a tool for commercialism. So what more is there left to do besides getting overly drunk in between deliveries of the same cash and video games every kid asks for? Well, as it turns out, there’s something else he can do.
A stop in Connecticut at a wealthy family household finds Santa landing right in the middle of a violent dispute. Mercenaries have descended on the mansion of the Lightstone family, the estate belonging to the shrewish matriarch Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo). Her family, greedy for her fortune, is mostly present for her wealth, and that greed attracts the sinister Mister Scrooge, a codenamed mercenary played by John Leguizamo. Santa wants to leave this situation but can’t because of some magical mishaps and because the young and innocent Trudy doesn’t deserve to be gunned down in this bloody feud. So Santa goes to work bringing Christmas cheer. And by cheer, I mean brutal and gory violence on the aggressors.
True to its title, Violent Night leans heavily on the excessive amount of blood and guts but in clever ways. Santa finds himself at a disadvantage as he scampers around for weapons and tries to defend himself. This leads to plenty of fun improvisations where Christmas tree stars become throwing stars and candy canes become sharp objects of blunt destruction. There’s also a clever homage to Home Alone, the way Trudy tries to help dispatch the terrorists. Of course, unlike Home Alone, her many traps cause serious and wince-worthy brutality to the terrorists she targets. It’s a bit merciful that she never gets to witness the full bloody extent of her Christmas-themed hijinks.
This sharp movie never settles for making the film a one-note gimmick. Santa’s whole crusade against the terrorists isn’t as simple as stopping bad guys. There’s an added layer of Santa’s despisement for the capitalist system that had bred class divide, the decay of believing in the holidays, and the loss of a world he once knew. These elements are uniquely woven into the narrative, where it never becomes squarely focused on Santa’s capitalism or questioning his memories of being a warrior who wielded a hammer before carrying a magic sack of toys. It makes the giddy and gritty narrative all the more enticing for having such a multidimensional character beyond the visual allure of watching Santa go on a bloody killing spree and cover his wounds with wrapping paper.
Armed with dialogue as vicious as its violence, the film kinda earns its corniness for proceeding with the predicted absurdity. The script isn’t adverse to favoring the silly juxtaposition of the Christmas concept placed upon this action scenario. This leads to many scenes of lines that feel like lackluster attempts at injecting some humor. But considering how much of the class satire, grotesque violence, and Christmas movie send-ups work so well, the absurd lines about Santa Claus coming to town hit a little better than they would in a lesser Christmas satire.
Violent Night is so fun for its bloody brilliance of binding class/Christmas satire with over-the-top violence. Watching Santa massacre a slew of terrorists with all manner of instruments while a cheerful Christmas melody plays is a delightfully dark holiday treat. While there’s no shortage of Christmas subversion movies out there, this is one to place on the nice list (or naughty, depending on your ranking of what’s good).
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.