Hammer Time: “Violent Night” movie review

Santa Claus comes to the rescue in ferociously entertaining home-invasion Christmas action-comedy

Violent Night
Starring David Harbour, Beverly D’Angelo, John Leguizamo & Leah Brady
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
Rated R

See It: In theaters Friday, Dec. 2

Here comes Santa Claus, pissed off and swinging a sledgehammer. In the inventively wicked, ferociously entertaining Violent Night, a world-weary St. Nick (David Harbour) comes to the aid of a New England family when a gang of ruthless mercenaries overtakes their home on Christmas Eve. They’re looking for millions in stashed loot, but the bad guys soon find something else—all their names on Santa’s naughty list.

This home-invasion action-comedy romp is a head-bashing, face-smashing holiday highball as Santa turns a Christmas tree topper, ice skates and candy canes into lethal weapons, then uses a tool shed sledgehammer to channel some of his murky past as a Viking plunderer, raider and warrior.

Harbour, best known for playing the sheriff in Stranger Things, has a ho-ho-ho hoot as the grizzled, tattooed Kris Kringle, who loves beer, misses his wife when he’s away and laments the greed, ingratitude and crass commercialization of the holiday. It’s enough to drive a saint to drink, which he does. (This Santa also has a muddy, bloody back story that may even connect him to a certain legendary Norse god.) And the Christmas magic that lets him zip up a chimney or endlessly pull presents from his bottomless bag? He admits that even he doesn’t quite understand it. The mojo just comes with the gig.

John Leguizamo (right) plays a bad guy on Santa’s naughty list.

Veteran actor John Leguizamo has some juicy, grinch-y glee as the hiss-ably villainous leader of the thieves. Beverly D’Angelo (from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and other flicks in the Vacation franchise) plays a flinty, foul-mouthed, filthy-rich matriarch. Young Leah Brady is as sweet as a homemade Christmas cookie as the little girl who really, truly believes in Santa Claus and Christmas—and becomes Santa’s little helper with a thing or two she’s learned from watching another Christmas movie, Home Alone.

Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola previously turned Nazis into zombies (Dead Snow) and made the fairytale couple Hansel and Gretel into swaggering witch hunters. So maybe it’s no surprise that he’d put a similarly gonzo, gutsy spin on Santa. It’s hyper-violent, caustically funny and a million mayhem-ic movie miles away from the genteel balms of It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf or A Christmas Story. But Violent Night certainly has its own kind of unfathomable Christmas magic; you just have to believe, and steer clear of that sledgehammer. If you miss it in theaters, you better not pout, and you better not cry—because it’s likely going to become a cable/streaming perennial, a ballsy antidote to the sugary overdose of other Christmas programming. So, ho, ho, holy sh*t—I’m a believer.

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