When I first say the trailer for Violent Night, I thought it was a joke. With my mouth slightly agape for a few seconds afterwards, I seriously believed that what I witnessed, like Santa Clause himself, was not real. We Catholics have the genuine article of St. Nicholas, but for all intents and purposes, none of the traditions we associate with the jolly gift bringer in a red suit are related to the former bishop of Myra in Turkey. Yet, also like those persistent, made-up traditions, I saw the trailer for the film a few more times and it confirmed that it is an actual movie. I had no desire to see it, though I am comfortable enough letting little ones believe in the legends of Santa Claus, so long as they keep Jesus at the center of the holiday. Few enough do, unfortunately. I will admit to some bitterness on that score, and that is a fitting entrée into the rest of this review.
It is Christmas Eve, the beginning of the Violent Night, and Santa Claus (David Harbour) is taking a break from his round the world in a night tour to have a pint in a pub in Bristol, England. Through his partially drunken mutters, you can hear that he is close to fed up with the way society has been treating the time of year at which he is at his busiest. This is underscored by the fact that nobody in the place believes he is who he says he is, no matter how matter-of-factly he says it. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond in Connecticut, Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell) awaits the arrival of his estranged wife, Linda Mathews (Alexis Louder), and his daughter Gertrude “Trudy” (Leah Brady). Though things are tense between Jason and Linda, Trudy is excited that they are together, that it is Christmas, and that they are heading to the incredibly large and private Lightstone estate to spend Christmas eve with Grandma Gertrude (Bevery D’Angelo). They are greeted upon arrival not by Gertrude, but by Jason’s sister Alva Steele-Lightstone (Edi Patterson), her clueless struggling action movie actor husband Morgan Steele (Cam Gigandet), and Alva’s son Bertrude “Bert” (Alexander Elliot), another of the misguided youths who thinks being a social media influencer is a sustainable way of life. Jason and his family seem to be genuinely interested in having a nice Christmas, but Alva’s set are clearly there to grovel for money, and not above accusing Jason of doing the same thing. Their dinner goes quietly enough, and Jason and Linda tuck Trudy into bed, with Jason giving his daughter a toy walkie-talkie he claims can help her communicate with Santa. They listen just outside her door as she tries to speak to Santa about only wanting to see her parents get back together. As an aside, Trudy is the only good thing in this movie. This gives Jason the inspiration to ask Linda that they leave tonight with Trudy. While they converse, Santa lands on the roof with his reindeer and proceeds to do the kinds of things you expect Santa to do, while also sampling the expensive liquors and taking a break in a massage chair. It is at this moment that the Lightstone estate is attacked by Jimmy Martinez (John Leguizamo), calling himself Scrooge in the Christmas, er, spirit. He is the leader of a band of mercenaries that murder the Lightstone’s entire staff, and takes the family hostage. The bad guys find Santa, too, and instead of allowing himself to be captured or killed, he fights back. After taking down one of the hostages, he attempts to get back on the roof and escape. Unfortunately for him, the reindeer are spooked by the gunfire and fly away without him. He is about to leave on foot when he sees Trudy, who is on his nice list, huddled up with her family and looking every bit the scared hostage that she is. This inspires Santa to take matters into his own hands. Inside, we learn that Scrooge is there to steal $300 million that Gertrude keeps in her vault in the basement of the house. He has apparently done his homework, and knows every countermeasure the Lightstone’s have against this possibility. What he is not prepared for is having a person on the loose disrupting his plans, regardless of it being a person full of Christmas magic. Santa gets a little assist from Trudy when he takes one of the walkie-talkies off another mercenary he kills and is able to get inside information from her. It also helps when she escapes and hides in the attic. From there, she is able to communicate with Santa, and through their conversation we learn that Santa used to be a Viking warrior that killed people with a giant hammer. So, there’s that. She also warns Santa when another group of mercenaries comes onto the property. They are supposed to be an extraction team dedicated to the family, but they have been employed by Scrooge as extra muscle. No matter. Santa finds a sledge hammer and kills them all. As this gory set piece unfolds, Scrooge finally makes it into the vault and finds it empty. Understandably displeased, he begins threatening the hostages until Jason confesses that he stole the money before they came, and he was going to use it to escape his family. He had stashed it outside under a Nativity scene, which is just awful for this Catholic, but I digress. Inside, Alva, Bert, and Linda overpower the mercenary guarding them, and this swings the momentum back to their side. Santa goes after those attempting to escape by snowmobile, and there is a final showdown between Santa and Scrooge. There is quite the phrase, huh? Santa finally triumphs by mutilating Scrooge by going up the chimney with his adversary. His victory is short lived, though, as he is soon shot a few times. As he lays dying, Trudy and the rest of the survivors make it to his side. He is revived by all of them saying they believe in him. After bidding a touching farewell to Trudy, it is off to finish Santa’s job . . . despite his many, many wounds.
If you can think of a classic film trope, it is in Violent Night. It has action, drama, horror, romance, and the rest. While watching it, I came to think that somebody in Hollywood said to a room full of producers, hey, why not do Die Hard(1988), but we will make John McClane (Bruce Willis) Santa Claus? Somebody said yes, and boy did they lean into it. This notion is supported by the fact that Santa in Violent Night at one point casually tosses aside a Die Hard (1988) DVD. Obviously, there is a lot of action in Violent Night, but the reference to others of its ilk smacks of intentionality. There is Trudy setting traps for the mercenaries in the attic ala Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) in Home Alone (1990). The blood and gore that you see in Violent Night is on par with any slasher movie, so much so that there were moments when I shut my eyes or turned away. I find that I cannot take such content as I could when I was younger. There is a romance between Jason and Linda as they learn to love each other once more, though this is the weakest aspect. You know when people describe certain films as having a little bit for everyone? That never leads to anything good, cinematically speaking, and this one is no exception.
As I said in discussing Violent Night’s plot, Trudy is about the only good thing in the entire movie. She is cute, even if she is a little prone to saying the word “ass.” I worry, though, about sticking a child in a film like this one. It is pretty much exactly what the title suggests, and the cursing goes beyond her use of an alternate word for a “butt” or a “donkey.” What redeems her is her belief in Santa. It redeems Santa, too. Of course, this Catholic would rather have that belief directed towards the true purpose of the season, to welcome the birth of the Messiah. As I have said in other reviews, there would be none of this, including this movie, if it were not for that event. Still, there is one interesting thing that goes along with this lack of knowledge of why we celebrate Christmas, and speaks to a rather good definition of faith. Throughout, we see the magical things that Santa can do, like go up and down chimneys, flying reindeer, and a bottomless sack in which all the presents are stored. Whenever these things happen and/or are commented upon, he repeats the line about not understanding the magic. Faith itself is not something to be fully grasped or understood. No one can truly say why God had Jesus be born when and where He did, though the Bible does offer clues. Those clues do have some sense of tangibility regarding the prophecies connected to His coming into the world. Beyond that, it is part of an overall plan of Salvation of which we are given only a glimpse in this life. If these sorts of things interest you, then I suggest you study Christianity more and not watch films like this one.
I do not recommend Violent Night for all the reasons mentioned, aside from Trudy’s general goodness. I do not think there is any reason to see someone use Baby Jesus from a Nativity scene to beat somebody up, or to witness somebody being stabbed in the neck while “Hosanna in the Highest” is played in the background. There is simply no good in this, even if the bad guys win. In the end, nobody wins. I get that there are people out there who are over Christmas in general. You see this with Santa and Scrooge. I would tell them that the solution is not to turn to violence, or make a movie about these things. Instead, look to the true source of Christmas, and all the bad will be put in its proper place.