Santa rewards naughty with not-so-nice in ‘Violent Night’

“Violent Night” reimagines Santa Claus as an uncertain and unlikely action hero who must decide whether to fight heavily-armed mercenaries on Christmas Eve to rescue a girl who still believes in him.

"Violent Night" movie poster
Santa Claus comes to the rescue of a wealthy family held hostage in the action-thriller "Violent Night." The R-rated movie is playing at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — “It’s a Wonderful Life,” this isn’t.

“Violent Night,” a new holiday release in theaters, reimagines Santa Claus as a reluctant action hero with insecurities, regrets and frailties not normally associated with the gift-giver who basically only works one night a year.

This alcohol-loving Kris Kringle delivers more than gifts over the course of the two-hour movie, which is rated R (and justifiably so) with its strong, bloody violence; he doles out punishment.

David Harbour dons the familiar red-and-white stocking cap as Santa, an indifferent St. Nick who questions his purpose in a world where Amazon delivers and consumerism is rampant.

Moviegoers may recognize the imposing actor from his role as the father of Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, who was played by Scarlett Johansson in Marvel’s “Black Widow.”


In “Violent Night,” Santa is caught dropping off presents during an armed robbery of a dysfunctional family, which includes a young girl who still believes in him wholeheartedly.

The deadly team of mercenaries holding the family hostage is led by actor John Leguizamo, aka Scrooge, whose intense hatred of the holiday harkens back to some childhood trauma.

From there, the situation goes from bad to worse even as St. Nick attempts to extract himself from the toxic and volatile environment where the body count of innocent people starts to rise.

Fans of “Christmas Vacation” will recognize Beverly D'Angelo in “Violent Night” as scheming and corrupt matriarch Gertrude Lightstone in a casting nod to the Chevy Chase holiday classic.

Scrooge’s gun-toting goons with likewise Christmas-themed codenames are tasked to retire the party-crashing Santa once and for as they attempt to steal millions from the family’s vault. But as Christmas Eve wears on with the girl’s life at stake, Santa goes from passive to aggressive.

“Violent Night” blends the violence and quips of Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard,” the black comedy of Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad Santa” and the cartoonishness of Macaulay Culkin’s “Home Alone.”

Director Tommy Wirkola cribs from “Die Hard” and the girl in “Violent Night” explicitly references “Home Alone” as she improvises ways to defend herself against her attackers in the thriller.

The central conceit of “Violent Night” — the naughty should be punished, not just the nice should be rewarded — was a refreshing take on the role of Santa. Patrick Casey and Josh Miller were the co-writers, and Casey hails from Bloomington and Miller was born in St. Paul.


“Missing” is a new mystery or thriller about a single mom who disappears on a romantic vacation with her boyfriend. It’s up to her 18-year-old digital-savvy daughter to find out what really happened.

“Violent Night” may be an affront to traditionalists who expect Santa to be a benevolent father figure but it is hardly the first film to put a twist on Christmas movies. Pure horror movies like “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Black Christmas” have become cult classics in many respects.

Childhood favorites such as Winnie-the-Pooh will be reimagined, too, in next year’s horror take on the beloved character in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,” which involved a feral Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet after their childhood friend Christopher Robin abandons them.

Will Santa return to the big screen in a “Violent Night” franchise-geared sequel to dispense more butt-kicking next year for those who have been bad? Maybe. But I draw the line at any potential motion picture involving, say, a tooth-extracting Tooth Fairy or a flesh-eating Easter Bunny.

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

“Violent Night” currently holds a 71% approval rating among critics and an 89% approval rating among more audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

The audience consensus from the critics at “It could have taken its cool concept even further, but ‘Violent Night’ is still a funny, gory good time — and David Harbour is terrific as a Santa you won't want to mess with.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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