The Grinch (2000) better watch out: I just might have a new favorite Christmas movie.
In this holiday dark comedy, David Harbour plays a gritty, tatted-up Santa Claus who has grown disenchanted with the world and is considering giving up on Christmas. However, while taking a break in a rich family’s mansion during his rounds on Christmas Eve, he finds himself trapped in the middle of a criminal organization’s scheme to make off with the $300 million locked in the house’s vault and kill anyone who gets in their way—even if that person is Jolly Old Saint Nick himself.
Harbour kills more than just bad guys in this movie: he also kills his role as Santa. Just moments into the movie, I already stopped thinking of him as “the guy from Stranger Things and Black Widow” and instead saw him as a man who has carried the burden of a thankless job for over 1000 years and grown understandably jaded but still can’t bring himself to ignore the pleas of a little girl whose family is in danger. This description sounds somber, yet believe it or not, Harbour’s portrayal of this weary Santa Claus is actually far more hilarious than depressing.
The entire movie had me in stitches; in fact, I am writing this review approximately 1.5 hours after leaving the movie theater, and my ribs still hurt from laughing so much. The dialogue was filled with ridiculously cringey one-liners, including “Santa’s coming to town” and “Christmas dies tonight”; however, the cheesiness of these lines adds to the overall hilarity of the film and they are unlikely meant to be taken seriously. The only part I found a bit too cliché was the ending. The narrative of “capitalism has transformed members of society into soulless, greedy creatures and the innocence of Christmas is dead… but there are still a few kind-hearted people that keep the magic alive” has been told a million times over the years, and I was honestly a bit disappointed that this movie followed that same pattern. I was sort of hoping it would embrace the “people suck and Christmas spirit is a farce” ideology, without the “but.” Perhaps I’m too much of a pessimist, though.
Despite the non-stop funniness that kept me and my friends laughing without time to catch our breath, let’s not forget that this is a dark comedy. We screamed, gasped, and gagged almost as much as we laughed. The film lives up to its name in that it abounds with blood and gore, just short of guts. It gets incredibly creative with different ways to use an array of Christmas decorations, from garland to an outdoor nativity, as weapons. Using a candy cane as a shank is a classic move, but this movie shows that you can kill a person with any Christmas decoration if you’re innovative enough. I’m never going to look at the star on top of a Christmas tree in the same way again.
In addition to all the blood, there’s also some pretty graphic puke, so if you have emetophobia, I strongly encourage you to skip the first 10 or so minutes of the movie. Most of what happens is in the beginning and is shown in the trailer, anyway, which you can watch at the bottom of this article.
Other than the comedy, I think my favorite element of this movie is that it gives us a peek at who this version of Santa Claus was before he became Father Christmas, and it’s very different from the history we saw in the 1970 claymation classic, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. I wish they had gone more in-depth with this backstory, but with the runtime teetering on the edge of two hours, I don’t think there was enough time for more than the brief glimpse we get.
The aforementioned cheesiness was not the film’s only weak point (although even its greatest faults were, in my opinion, totally minor). The motives of the main villain (played by John Leguizamo, who voices Encanto‘s Bruno Madrigal and Ice Age‘s Sid) for hating Christmas so much are a little underwhelming, though definitely not what I was expecting. There are also lots of things that lack logic and clearly happen just to set up a cool (and usually violent) shot or move the plot in a specific direction; nevertheless, in a film like this, such unreasonableness is forgivable. After all, you can chalk a lot of it up to “Christmas magic.” Just don’t think about it too hard.
Overall, this movie didn’t just blow my expectations out of the water: it wrapped my expectations up in a Christmas gift box, hammered the lid shut with nails, adorned the box with garland and Christmas lights, stuck sticks of dynamite in between the wires, threw the box into the ocean, and then blew it up with an AK-47. I never like to rewatch a movie within the same year, let alone within the same month, but I will absolutely be giving Violent Night another watch when it gets closer to Christmas.
You can watch the trailer below:
P.S. If you’re a millennial and wondering why Morgan looks so familiar, it’s because he played James in Twilight. You’re welcome.