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‘Violent Night’ Could Dethrone ‘Die Hard’ as Best Christmas Flick

Ho ho ho! Who’s ready for the best Santa slasher movie ever? Admittedly, it’s a narrow sub-genre and anyone who knows me or reads my reviews, knows full well that this is not the type of movie I typically recommend. However, it’s the season for charity and director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, 2013 – a sequel in the works) and co-writers Pat Casey and John Miller (the screenwriters behind the Sonic the Hedgehog films) have gifted us an extremely violent and often very funny Christmas present, replete with a sledgehammer-slinging Santa Claus.

We first meet an inebriated Santa (“I’m on a break”) at a local pub, where he explains to a mall Santa that greedy, self-centered kids who only want more video games have ruined it for him. The booze numbs Santa’s disgust as he heads off on his sleigh. And Wirkola delivers the first shocking moment as Santa’s barf keys us into the type of twisted tale we are about to experience.

David Harbour (best known as Jim Hopper in “Stranger Things” and Hellboy, 2019) is absolutely all-in for this far-from-glamorous portrait of jolly ol’ Saint Nick. On his rounds, Santa raids household liquor stashes while chomping on cookies and eschewing skim milk. He’s a full-blown slob, yet still holds a soft spot for “nice” kids, while having little mercy for the “naughty” ones.

Most of the story takes place at the Lightstone family compound, where one-percenter Gertrude (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation alum Beverly D’Angelo) is the foul-mouthed matriarch ruling over her entitled and unlikable family consisting of daughter Alva (Edi Patterson) and her airhead-actor husband Morgan (Cam Gigandet) and their poser teenage son Bert (Alexander Elliot). Also present for the festive evening are Gertrude’s son Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda (Alexis Louder), and their precious 7-year-old daughter Trudy (Leah Brady). Santa arrives at the Lightstone mansion not long before a team of mercenaries, led by Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo), storm the place, and take the family members hostage. Their mission is to break into the family vault and abscond with $300 million in cash.

Violent Night 2022
David Harbour as Santa. (Universal Pictures)

What follows is a demented mash-up of Die Hard (1989), Home Alone (1990), Bad Santa (2003), and Thor (2011). Deadly weapons used here include your expected firearms, but also a finely-honed candy cane, an icicle, a skating shoe, and a Christmas tree star, among other holiday items. Most prominent is the sledgehammer wielded by Santa, and the flashback to his pre-Santa days for explanation. The violent action is plentiful, and it’s well-balanced with countless lines of comedy.

Surprisingly, there is a story nestled in amongst the mayhem, and the heart of it revolves around the bond between Santa and young Trudy. She’s a true believer in him and that overrides his uncertainty about the job and inspires him to stick around for the fight. Santa can’t explain the mystique of Christmas “magic,” but he does know a 1,100-year marriage has its ups and downs.

Obviously, this is not one for the kiddos (it’s a hard R-rating), and they should be shielded from this Yuletide yuck. Director Wirkola has delivered an instant holiday classic for those seeking the bizarro world flicks contrasting to the more respectable family fare of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. Who would have ever thought that Festivus might be the safer holiday?