A hard-drinking Santa gets wrapped up in a hostage situation at a billionaire’s estate in Violent Night, a fun and flippant variation on Die Hard that, unlike its template movie, genuinely is a Christmas movie, touching on all the holiday bases.
Featuring a standout performance from David Harbour as the less-than-jolly old St. Nick and well-executed scenes of holiday carnage from director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), this one’s a genuine Christmas treat.
Harbour’s Santa Claus may recall Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, but this guy’s the real-deal Kris Kringle, out delivering presents on Christmas Eve on a sleigh driven by eight flying reindeer… right after he downs this last beer.
Violent Night contrasts a childlike view of Christmas wonder with real-world grotesqueries, exemplified in an opening scene where a bartender watches Santa Claus take off on his reindeer with open-mouth amazement, even after he splatters her face with a rich torrent of cream-of-mushroom vomit.
Santa has lost his holiday cheer after a thousand or so Christmasses, but he finds fleeting joy in raiding the liquor cabinet to go along with his milk and cookies. At the spacious estate of billionaire Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo), he locates some particularly enticing vintage brandy.
But ho, ho, holdup! Just as Santa sits down to have a nip, an armed gunman bursts in the room. While this Claus doesn’t have any superpowers, besides a little Christmas magic that allows him to effortlessly transport through chimneys, he’s able to make short work of the baddie… but not before some errant gunfire scares off his eight reindeer, leaving St. Nick stranded.
And that Gunman wasn’t lone: Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo) has taken the Lightstone family hostage for the holidays, wiping out her security detail and demanding the millions in cash that rests in Gertrude’s safe.
Members of the Lighthouse family held captive by Scrooge’s goons (and a scene-stealing Brendan Fletcher as the manic Krampus) include bitter daughter Alva (Edi Patterson), her son Bert (Alexander Elliot) and C-list actor beau Morgan (Cam Gigandet), and Gertrude’s long-suffering son Jason (Alex Hassell) and his long-suffering wife Linda (Alexis Louder).
And Jason and Linda’s daughter Trudy (Leah Brady), who reaches out for emergency help using the “magic” walkie-talkie line to the North Pole her father gave her… and manages to get a response from Santa himself.
While this Santa bears all the usual hallmarks of the modern-day Claus, his origins don’t harken back to the tales of St. Nick. Instead, he was a Viking named Nicomund who pillaged and plundered using a warhammer named Skullcrusher… and he’s about to bring the same kind of energy to the hostage-takers in the Lighthouse residence after discovering a sledgehammer out in the garage.
Violent Night’s real-world carnage makes for a nice juxtaposition with the holiday cheer, but the fantasy elements often take us out of what should be a taut action narrative. Santa’s superhuman abilities are never really explained (“Christmas magic”, Harbour’s character tells us), and lengthy scenes of St. Nick getting beat-up and bloodied fail to generate much interest since we presume this character cannot die.
A version of Violent Night that directly crosses Bad Santa with Die Hard, i.e. an alcoholic actor booked to play Santa at a ritzy Christmas party finds himself an unwitting savior in the midst of a hostage situation, might have played better. Of course, John McClane is pretty much a Bad Santa himself, that movie is essentially the original Die Hard, and it does play significantly better.
But Violent Night offers enough thrills and offbeat humor to make a distinct impact, and plays best when it sticks to the wink-wink comedy: climactic scenes involving Trudy going Home Alone, but with the real-world bloodshed that Kevin McAllister’s hijinks would have resulted in, are a real highlight.
This one may not be a Christmas classic, but among recent Christmas-themed action-horror films, Violent Night is a notch above Fatman if a notch below Krampus.