Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the night, Santa was kicking ass and putting up a fight. At least that’s the plot of the new Christmas action/thriller Violent Night, starring none other than Stranger Things’ David Harbour. One part Die Hard, one part Home Alone, with a dash of sentimental Christmas magic, Violent Night is as entertaining and heartwarming as it is brutally violent!
Set on Christmas Eve, the movie introduces us to the extremely dysfunctional Lightstone family. Headed by the ruthless matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), her two children Alva (Edi Patterson) and Jason (Alex Hassell) have spent their lives vying for their mother’s approval and control of the massive oil company she runs. The entire family is gathered to celebrate the holiday, including Jason’s estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder) and his daughter Trudy (Leah Brady).
As the family is asleep, the real life Santa (David Harbour) shows up to deliver presents. But while he’s there, a criminal crew led by “Scrooge” (John Lequizamo) breaks into the house and holds the family hostage, so that he can abscond with the $300 million in the vault beneath the house. Trapped in a house filled with armed terrorists, and a family in need of help, Santa steps into action and takes out the home invaders one by one.
This movie very easily could have done for a PG-13 rating, but much to the delight of yours truly, and many other horror/action fans, it holds absolutely nothing back. The kills are numerous, creative, and gleefully brutal and gory. Santa remains unarmed for most of the movie, and thus has to improvise by grabbing whatever he can and turning it into a weapon.
We get a very brief glimpse into his past and discover that he was once a warrior in ancient times. And this night seems to bring that back in him. Granted, this is far from the first time we’ve seen a killer Santa before. Between films like Silent Night, Deadly Night, Santa’s Slay, Christmas Evil, that infamous episode of Tales from the Crypt, and many more, seeing a homicidal Santa brutalize and murder people is practically a trope in terms of horror.
But what sets this particular iteration apart is that this Santa is violently killing people for good rather than evil. The role of a scruffy, rough around the edges warrior who’s willing to get down and dirty but with a heart of gold is something that David Harbour plays particularly well. He’s taking out bad guys with cheesy but fun one liners, but it’s all in the service of protecting and saving innocent people.
And as Santa is tearing through henchman after henchman, they hilariously start to argue with each other about whether Santa is real and if this is truly him they’re dealing with. Many of them feel like generic “bad guy” archetypes, but John Leguizamo is given a lot of time to shine. He doesn’t have the elegant sophistication of Hans Gruber, nor should he. He’s a much more unhinged character with a huge grudge against Christmas, and the fact that he’s fighting Santa himself makes their final confrontation all the more symbolic.
The Power of Belief
All while Santa is on his rampage for good, he communicates with Trudy via radio and in doing so this movie delivers on the Christmas spirit as well. Trudy is the only one in her family that believes in Santa and she helps remind him what it’s all for. The eons have left Santa a bitter and cynical alcoholic, and even in the beginning of the movie, he toys with the idea of this being his last Christmas because the world is so naughty.
It would have been enough to just give us a badass action hero Santa, but Violent Night really gives him a fleshed-out character development and arc. Sure the whole power from believing in Santa is an overdone trope that borders on cheesy, but it’s a quintessential component of any Christmas classic which this movie very much is.
Fans of gore and violent action movies will be entertained, but what’s most memorable about this movie is just how much heart it has. At its core is a dysfunctional family that learns to work together and love each other, and a renewed passion from jolly old St. Nick about the holiday that he’s known for.
And given how much of its plot seems “inspired” by Die Hard (which the movie even makes a meta joke about), it almost retroactively makes Die Hard a definite Christmas movie, thus ending the internet debate forever! So if you’re in the mood for some amazingly bloody kills mixed with wholesome Christmas spirit, check out Violent Night!
What did you think of Violent Night? What are some of your favorite Christmas horror movies? Let us know in the comments!