The Night Santa Opened A Big Sack of Whupass

‘Violent Night,’ or, ‘Away In A Mangler’

Here’s an idea for next year’s advent calendar: Santa, THE Santa, offs 24 naughty folks during the course of “Violent Night” with the help of gravity, grenades, ornaments, ice skates, strings of colorful lights, a snow blower, icicles, an oversized candy cane, fake icicles, a very well-used sledgehammer, and Christmas nose magic paired with a chimney. If there’s a seasonal trope that Santa can shove into a bad guy’s perineum to consign them to the permanent naughty list, the makers of this movie don’t want to miss it. Unless they’re saving it for “Violent Night 2.”

VIOLENT NIGHT ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Written by: Pat Casey, Josh Miller
Starring: David Harbour, Beverly D’Angelo, John Leguizamo
Running time: 112 min

Tradition dictates that the protagonists of Christmas movies have a crisis of faith to defeat, and so we find Mr. Claus drinking himself into a stupor at an English pub. Capitalism has him down, the nice list ain’t getting any longer, and he’s considering retiring from the whole shebang. Meanwhile in snowy Connecticut, a mostly vile billionaire family is about to have their festivities cut short by a group of commando thieves led by John Leguizamo. The Scrooge McDuck-y matriarch (Beverly D’Angelo) squirreled away an ill-gained $300 million cash in the family vault and this gang wants it. The only thing that can stop them is nice-listed young ‘un Trudy, a walkie talkie, and a reluctant Santa who just wanted a brandy and a quick nap in the family’s massage chair. Welcome to the party, pal. 

The trailer gives a pretty accurate expectation of what to expect with trombone enthusiast David Harbour emoting the line, “Time for some season’s beatings.” It’s an intentionally very cheesy pastiche parody of many favorite American Christmas films. And, for what it is, it mostly works. The beatings are indeed seasonal and The Northman-level gory, as one might expect from the makers of Kick-Ass and the Norwegian Nazi zombie comedy Dead Snow.

As with those movies, it’s also not a surprise that director Tommy Wirkola and writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller put more love into crafting creative beatdowns than into creative dialogue or character development. It’s not like anyone is expecting subtlety with a movie that the studio is marketing as  ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ for the holidays, but the jokes mostly lack the zing of Bad Santa and, for all the expletives she gets to sling, Beverly D’Angelo never gets to call anybody a “bendy fuck” like Logan Roy. 

Other than the beatdowns, the things that work best about Violent Night are an extremely graphic salute to Home Alone, a quick dive into the possibility that Santa’s a reformed 1,100-year-old Viking marauder, and the walkie-talkie bonding of Trudy (Leah Brady) and Santa. Whenever David Harbour is on screen, even when he’s just drunkenly puttering around and eating cookies, the movie comes alive a little bit more. Everything screeches to a halt when things cut back to the thieves interacting with the awful family they’re robbing. It’s a lens flares-and-all tribute to Die Hard, but it never gives the audience a suitable Gruber to balance against its John McClane. And there’s definitely not anybody as enduring as Hart Bochner’s Ellis. While Leguizamo gets to chew a fun line or two, Violent Night limits most of the baddie banter to dudes yelling “fuck.”

Despite all of the heavy-handed and obvious parody, a fairly meh first and second act, and just plain weird pacing, “Violent Night” ultimately delivers what it promises: drunk Santa offing loads of bad guys in fun ways. Save the think piece on why we want Santa to crush skulls. If that’s what you want to read, you’re at the wrong movie.

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Jonpaul Henry Guinn

Jonpaul Henry Guinn is a freelance writer, Jeopardy also-ran, pub quiz host, and U.S. army veteran. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he oversees staffing and training for Geeks Who Drink.

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