It only took five words to sell me on Violent Night (2022). They weren’t “Die Hard meets Home Alone” or “time for some season’s beatings.” No, no. All I needed to hear was “David Harbour is Santa Claus” and I was all-in.
I would’ve seen the film regardless. Still, it was a relief to realize that—even though Santa is a ruthless killer—he’s still the good guy. Just…a good guy who kills bad guys in extremely gruesome ways. The whole premise of Violent Night is that, while Santa Claus is delivering gifts on Christmas Eve, he finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a home invasion. When a team of criminals takes the family hostage, Santa starts crossing names off his naughty list. Watch the full trailer below.
It’s not rated R for Reindeer.
Sometimes, a filmmaker says, “You know, what? This should be rated R—just in case.” Other times, a filmmaker says, “You know, what? This is already rated R, so we should just go full throttle.”
For Violent Night, director Tommy Wirkola must’ve said the latter.
There’s a staggering amount of cursing in this. That’s certainly realistic for a life-or-death home invasion, but not at all what I expected going in. As for violence, Violent Night is…well, violent. In our select audience, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t gasp or cover their eyes at least once. That’s because it’s not just violent. It’s creatively violent.
Violent Night has some really great kills and balances the deaths you expect with deaths you don’t. One or two took me completely by surprise, which is a feat for an action movie that advertises its body count. Other deaths are like a good rollercoaster—you can see the drop coming, you know exactly what’s about to happen, and there’s a tense moment of waiting as you prepare yourself for just how graphic it’s going to be. Violent Night nails that feeling more than once, which is part of what makes it so fun.
Santa’s got an interesting backstory.
I walked into Violent Night expecting a lot of fun, senseless violence. While there is a ton of blood and gore, a lot of work went into tying it all together to make sense. If you have a hard time picturing Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick wielding a war hammer, you should know that David Harbour isn’t your typical Santa.
Most people know that a lot of Christmas traditions are actually derived from pagan festivals like Yule. One of the most interesting things that Violent Night does is use these Nordic roots to flesh out Santa’s character and history. Watching Santa Claus go to town taking out bad guys is a lot easier when you consider that a couple centuries ago, he was a Viking warrior.
But even when we’re getting a better look at Santa, Violent Night doesn’t make the mistake of explaining too much. It doesn’t become a history lesson about Christmas or a Santa Claus origin story. There’s just enough to make him more intriguing than your average St. Nick, without detracting from the fact that David Harbour is bashing people in the head with a sledgehammer.
Most importantly, it doesn’t need to explain Christmas magic. There’s a few nods here and there, like the runes carved into Santa’s sleigh, but it ultimately remains a mystery. Sometimes even Santa has to say, “Yeah, I’m not really sure how it works.”
It’s still a feel-good Christmas movie.
Despite the graphic violence, despite the excessive swearing, despite the fact that Santa Claus stabs a man in the face with a candy cane—Violent Night is still a great Christmas movie. It has a dysfunctional family, a villain who cares more about money than holiday spirit, and someone who needs to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. It just so happens that, this time around, that person is Santa Claus.
Violent Night talks a lot about how Christmas has changed over the years: people are more demanding, more materialistic, and no one truly believes anymore. Somewhere along the line, Christmas stopped feeling like magic. It’s something that really spoke to me, as one of the many people who miss “the old Christmas”—when it was a special day of excitement instead of another day on the calendar. Violent Night doesn’t try to deny that Christmas has changed, but what it does say is that you can make the choice to believe. There’s still kindness in the world, and that’s what matters.
Between the moral lesson, the inventive kills, and the dozens of Christmas pop culture references, Violent Night was a great film experience. It may not be clean family fun, but I can safely say I’ll be adding it to my annual watchlist—and checking it twice.
Violent Night is available in theaters today.