Violent Night movie review: Stranger Things star David Harbour’s sadistic Santa is a hoot

David Harbour  (AP)
David Harbour (AP)

David Harbour’s slick new action movie combines slaughter and sleighbells. It’s brazenly amoral and outrageously sappy. Thanks to the Stranger Things star, it’s also a blast.

The plot draws on Die Hard, Home Alone, A Christmas Carol and even Peter Pan. It’s December the 24th, and a bunch of mercenaries, led by self-styled Mr Scrooge, aka Ben (John Leguizamo), are holding a rich family, the Lightstones, hostage.

A sozzled and embittered Father Christmas happens to be passing by and is moved by the plight of the clan’s youngest member. Nice, cute, resourceful Trudy (Leah Brady) still believes in Santa. And what she “wants for Christmas” is for her separated parents to get back together. She’d also prefer it if her hilariously dishonest granny, Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo, channelling Logan Roy), stayed alive.

Can Saint Nick pull that off?

Writers Josh Miller and Pat Casey worked on the Sonic The Hedgehog movies. They know what kids like, i.e. rude words, chaos and, ultimately, domestic harmony. Things get scary for the Lightstones (one of them loses a finger and is threatened with castration; one of them, er, dies). But no one Trudy cares about is seriously hurt. When the film eventually arrives on the small screen, bloodthirsty under-tens will kill to see it. It could become a Christmas staple.


The presence of producer David Leitch (who directed Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and Bullet Train) should be the big lure for teens and twenty-somethings. That and Santa’s backstory. Turns out this semi-immortal was once a rapacious, hammer-wielding Viking warrior. Up against Ben’s goons, Mr Claus is forced to stab, smash, incinerate and blow up human bodies.

As he does so, he marvels at the spectacle. He adores Trudy because she’s empathetic, but he himself is aroused and amused by annihilation. He’s basically a conflicted sadist, which is the grey area Harbour sinks his teeth into, displaying a commitment to the role worthy of Miracle on 34th Street’s Edmund Gwenn. This is murky magic. But, when Harbour’s on screen, you can’t look away.

Santa has a hammer, like Marvel super-hero Thor, but it’s an important detail that he’s not conventionally buff. Chris Hemsworth wore a fat suit for Avengers: Endgame, only to shed it for Thor: Love and Thunder. Here, by contrast, in director Tommy Wirkola’s world, it’s cool to be a little corpulent.

A sequel is already being discussed. All I want for Christmas is a promise that Gertrude, at some point, will be held accountable for her crimes. Somehow this capitalist avoids the naughty list. Dear film-makers, fix that clerical error and I’ll be more than happy to watch Claus kill again.

112mins, cert 15

In cinemas from December 2