‘Violent Night’ An Odd But Fitting Balance of Sadism and Sentimentality – ScreenHub Entertainment

In the opening scenes of Richard Donner’s Christmas comedy Scrooged, a trailer for a fake Christmas TV film plays depicting terrorists seizing Santa’s workshop, forcing Santa to become an action hero with the help of The Six Million Dollar Man’s Lee Majors. The fake film, aptly titled The Night the Reindeer Died might have seemed like nothing more than a joke afterthought at the time. How times have changed. In 2022, not only has a similar film been shown on the big screen, but Violent Night is also one of the best Christmas-themed movies in a long time.

Violent Night concerns Santa Clause, played by David Harbour of Stranger Things fame. This Santa is not the jolly Kris Kringle most are used to. He’s overworked, cranky and cynical about the modern consumerist state of the holiday. Things get even stranger (teehee) for him when, while delivering a gift for Trudy Lightstone (Leah Avery) at her family’s wealthy estate, he becomes involved in a home invasion where the family is taken hostage. With no one else able to help, Santa takes a page from the Die Hard playbook, and begins dispatching the thieves one by one.

The trailers for the film promised an over-the-top bit of gory glory, showing a Santa-turned-action hero delivering rough justice to the film’s villains. Rest assured, Violent Night delivers on its title, delivering joyous amounts of blood and flying body parts that would be enough to satisfy even the most gore-hungry moviegoers. But Violent Night goes the extra mile. What might have seemed like nothing more than a comedy sketch stretched out to feature length is given more substance when the film, believe it or not, actually manages to keep its focus on what most Christmas movies are about; the spirit of the holidays.

The film has its share of quirky characters. This mostly comes on the part of Trudy’s family, the Lightstones. While her parents Linda and Jason (Alexis Louder and Alex Hassell) are played more or less straight, the rest of the family fits nicely into a wide range of comical stereotypes. Beverly D’Angelo is cold and unlikeable as Gertrude, the family’s wealthy matriarch, but she’s also funny. Edi Patterson is funny as the competitive Alva, Jason’s sister, with Alexander Elliot serving as a good foil as her bratty, social media-obsessed son. Cam Gigandet’s Morgan Steel, a vain Z-grade action star and Alva’s boyfriend is the cherry on top. For the most part, the family is a series of unlikable cliches, and while it’s fun to see them punished in a few scenes here and there, we don’t necessarily want to see them come to harm.

The villains also have their share of standout performances. Brendan Fletcher is both funny and intimidating as ‘Krampus,’ the unhinged trigger happy sociopath of the group. Andre Eriksen and Mitra Suri are funny as ‘Gingerbread’ and ‘Candy Cane,’ the bumbling duo of the group who recall Home Alone‘s Marv and Harry. When it comes to acting, everyone involved pulls out the stops.

The film also makes its villains more complicated than you’d expect, shown best with John Leguizamo’s Jimmy ‘Scrooge’ Martinez, the main villain of the film. Leguizamo’s character could have been a one-note baddie, but the film alludes to the character’s tragic backstory, with him like Santa himself criticizing the holiday’s focus on greed while those less fortunate are left out in the cold. You feel bad for who he was, while also representing who he is. In many ways, he represents what Santa is on his way to becoming, which makes his status as the big bad Santa must defeat that much more appropriate.

All these characters wouldn’t be worth much if the main character was dull, so how does the movie do with its more violent iteration of Jolly Saint Nick? This film’s Santa spends his holidays as many people do, overworked and exhausted after pulling long, unforgiving hours. The character’s first scene is of him complaining about how consumer culture has ruined the holiday, comparing modern kids to ‘junkies’ looking for the momentary rush of getting presents. This approach does the impossible, and turns Santa into an everyman just trying to get through the season in one piece. He only becomes involved in the heist because he’s taking a break at the family’s house due to exhaustion. Coupled with David Harbour’s performance, this iteration of Santa is endearing and relatable.

Leah Avery’s Trudy is not only a good character, but she also serves as a symbol for the holiday itself, encapsulating all the generosity and cheer that Harbour’s Santa has come to miss. Trudy like Santa could have been a one-note character who was just there to look cute and innocent, with her holiday sentiments seeming more cliched than character driven. Trudy however is a little more. She takes after Macauley Culkin’s Kevin with a fair amount of resourcefulness and sarcasm, and like Santa, she can handle herself.

[Credit: Universal]

But Trudy serves a more important purpose in the film. The young girl has an unyielding belief in the holidays that many children have. The best scenes in the film involve Santa and Trudy, with an especially sentimental moment occurring when Trudy starts to question her belief in Santa. Santa proves his identity by recounting letters he received from her, not only filling Trudy with joy, but also himself. It’s a nice ironic moment in that Trudy ends up spreading the Christmas cheer to Santa, further motivating him to do whatever he can to rescue her and her family.

Once Violent Night gets going, it pays appropriate homage to a number of holiday classics. There are obvious examples like homages to Home Alone with the gory booby traps, but also cult favorites like Die Hard, shown when Santa and Trudy communicate with each other via walkie-talkies or the snowmobiles from Die Hard 2. There are even homages to less obvious Christmas films like Silent Night Deadly Night, shown whenever Santa utters ‘naughty’ prior to claiming a victim.

[Credit: Universal]

The violence is amped up for comical effect. One home invader is stabbed in the eye with a Star of Bethlehem ornament which is then plugged in, electrocuting the crook to death before their head catches fire. In another one of the film’s funnier moments, Trudy sets up several booby traps in the spirit of Home Alone, having just seen the 90s Christmas favorite. In this case, however, we see what those traps would do to an actual human body, showing nasty impalements on a bed of nails and a gruesome scalping caused by super glue. Even on its own, the over-the-top deaths in this scene are worth the price of admission.

Add these elements together and you have a rich stew of both dramatic and comedic possibilities. You’ll have funny moments like Santa listing the various offenses of the ‘naughty’ thieves and the Lightstones rising up to bring down one of their attackers. Along with that, you’ll have moments that are genuinely heartfelt and even heartbreaking, such as when Jimmy reveals the tragic circumstances that lead him to a life of crime. Elements like this should clash, and yet, perhaps through Christmas Magic, they actually complement each other. Despite all the film’s over-the-top gore and dark humor, there’s a real sense that all the fighting is for something worthwhile.

What to understand about Violent Night is it’s not about Santa killing criminals, at least not only that. It’s really about a man fed up with the holidays who, on Christmas Eve, meets someone who reminds him why this time of year can be really special. The joke is that Santa Clause is the man who has had enough, and he meets a girl who reminds him that, to some people, he’s a symbol for everything great about this time of year. For that, I have little doubt this will become a beloved cult Christmas favorite in the years to come.

Like this article? Check out these other holiday-themed pieces by some of our top contributors!

10 Anti-Christmas Classics

Home Alone’s Themes & How Home Alone 2 Missed Them

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