Getting older is the enemy of feeling the Christmas Spirit. Children usually don’t have the pressure of making a living, paying bills, dealing with political arguments and seeing the general collapse of what makes the holidays magical. The forced consumerism of getting “everyone” a gift, any gift, means we spend too much time in traffic, in crowded stores and in line, buying junk for family and friends they neither want nor need. Instead of buying me a gift, I would rather my acquaintances drop money in a Salvation Army red kettle or take a Make a Wish tag from a Christmas tree or donate to Toys for Tots or their local food bank and help people that need it. I want for nothing I can’t get myself. All the pressure to buy stuff this time of year simply sucks the joy out of Christmas. Perhaps that why the idea of a Santa Claus kicking the asses of bad guys on his naughty list sounds so appealing in the new film “Violent Night.”
Santa Claus (David Harbour) is disillusioned with the materialism of Christmas and the lack of holiday spirit he feels around the world. Drinking heavily at bars along his route, Santa stops at the home of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo), a wealthy and powerful businessperson hosting her annual family Christmas eve gathering. The event is an opportunity for her grown children to suck up to their mother trying to position themselves to take over the company. Daughter Alva Steele-Lightstone (Edi Patterson) and her actor husband Morgan Steele (Cam Gigandet), along with Alva’s son from her first marriage Bertrude “Bert” Lightstone (Alexander Elliot), a wannabe social media influencer, are on hand jockeying for a future position of power in the company, along with Morgan hoping his mother-in-law will finance an action movie he would star in. Also present is Gertrude’s son Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda Matthew (Alexis Louder) and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady). Trudy is a hardcore Santa believer. Alva has always considered Linda a gold digger despite any evidence. After a tense cocktail hour, a group of mercenaries, that posed as the catering company for the evening, reveal themselves, led by Jimmy “Scrooge” Martinez (John Lequizamo). Killing all of Gertrude’s security staff, Scrooge announces his plan to steal $300 million Lightstone has diverted from a government contract and keeps in a high security vault in the basement. All the shooting scares off Santa’s reindeer on the roof, leaving him with only his magical sack of gifts. Santa is able to defeat a couple of Scrooge’s goons and grabs one of their radios, hoping to contact the police. Jason has given Trudy an old walkie-talkie he says communicates with Santa. Santa hears Trudy’s pleas for help and is determined to make it a very un-Merry Christmas for Scrooge and all his henchmen.
Perhaps I’m just cynical enough for “Violent Night” to work for me. Harbour’s disillusioned Santa, drinking in a British pub, complaining about the ingratitude of most children, how their faces only light up with joy for a second or two after opening a gift and then crave yet another one, spoke to my own personal loss of Christmas cheer. There’s an overall lack of compassion, of caring, of charity that makes Christmas a lesser holiday for me than it was in my youth. It is supposed to be a time of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the ultimate gift to the world, yet there’s very little Christ in Christmas anymore. I’m as much to blame for that as everyone else. Yet, despite the violence, gore and foul language throughout “Violent Night,” there’s a tiny spark for renewal of Christmas love and hope.
David Harbour is terrific as Santa. He’s not a supernatural action hero. This Santa is as fallible and mortal as the rest of us. He admits he doesn’t understand how all the Christmas magic works, including his bottomless sack of gifts, and he’d rather avoid fighting if possible, but he will throw hands and use anything within his reach as a weapon to beat the bad guys and save Trudy.
Harbour’s Santa is an everyman; tired of dealing with the lack of respect and thanks he gets from children all over the world. The cookies are nice, better if homemade, and he’d prefer a beer or whiskey to milk, but all his time away has strained his relationship with Mrs. Claus. The Santa Claus of “Violent Night” is more like an Average Joe than a magical elf. He’s overworked, under appreciated and thinking he might need to hang up the red suit. The performance, and script from Pat Casey and Josh Miller, makes this possibly the most relatable Santa Claus in film history.
Santa’s backstory is hinted at in a flashback and brief explanation. If there’s a sequel, perhaps we’ll dive more deeply into the pre-Santa history of the character. That could have been a very interesting sequence had it been more fully explored. Maybe the movie’s nearly two-hour runtime meant there wasn’t room for an in depth look at the Jolly Fat Man’s history.
Alexis Louder, who is in the criminally underseen “Copshop,” delivers another great performance as Linda, a woman that wants nothing to do with her estranged husband’s toxic family. While Louder isn’t given that much to do in the film, when she’s on screen, she’s impossible to ignore. Louder overwhelms her co-stars in her believability and her strength. I wish she had been featured more instead of the obnoxious characters of Alva, Morgan and Bert, but I suppose the film makers chose to emphasize the greedy and needy side of the family as opposed to the more grounded and likable side. I hope Louder gets more featured roles as she’s a great actress.
“Violent Night” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references. There are numerous shootings, beatings and stabbings throughout the film. A candy cane and an icicle are used as stabbing implements. A star-shaped ornament in stabbed in someone’s eye. Another character falls out a window and is impaled on a large decorative icicle. A sledgehammer is used to kill several characters. A magical killing leaves behind a bloody torso. Characters are also killed using a snowblower. The sexual references are quick and used more as threats. Foul language is common throughout.
“Violent Night” won’t replace “Christmas Vacation” (also starring Beverly D’Angelo) nor “It’s a Wonderful Life” as most people’s favorite holiday movie. But it might provide an antidote to anyone feeling a bit of holiday overload and needing an anti-feel-good film that still provides a tiny bit of hope in the end.
“Violent Night” gets four out of five stars.
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