Violent Night offers an unexpected take on Santa Claus, and its ending leaves some things to think about. Directed by Tommy Wirkola and starring David Harbour, the film follows a Santa Claus who’s largely disillusioned with his duties. One fateful night, while delivering presents, he is forced to save wealthy entrepreneur Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo) and her family from a group of mercenaries. Violent Night puts a big emphasis on Santa’s relationship with Gertrude’s granddaughter, Trudy, who bonds with Santa after asking him to save her and her family. The mercenaries are led by a man codenamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo), who has hated Christmas since childhood.
Violent Night provides an intriguing look at the legend of Santa Claus. Though twists on Santa’s mythology are commonplace in entertainment, the 2022 holiday movie explores the concept through a peculiar lens, starting him out as disgruntled and mean and gradually evolving him into a kinder individual. It also focuses on the idea of Santa gaining power through people’s belief in him, which is demonstrated when Trudy and her family bring him back to life after being mortally wounded. Violent Night offers some intriguing concepts to ponder regarding morality and the classic Santa Claus mythology that merit a deeper exploration.
As Scrooge’s mercenaries took over the Lightstone house, Santa’s reindeer left the premises, leaving their distressed master behind. However, a plot twist at the end of the film revealed that the animals flew away with the intention of helping Claus. After David Harbour’s (of Stranger Things fame) Santa saved Trudy’s family, the reindeer reappeared carrying his spare sack of presents to replace the one that was burned by the mercenaries. They also brought Skull Crusher, Santa Claus’ hammer from his Viking era, which Mrs. Claus (who was never shown in the film) sent to her husband for protection.
The reindeer’s arrival was a touching twist to show that Santa’s animals never actually abandoned him. Instead, they flew back to the North Pole to get a weapon that Father Christmas could defend himself with, as well as with a new sack to allow him to carry out his present-delivering duties. It was an unexpected and fun explanation for what led to Santa being stuck in the Lightstone estate, which also offered a glimpse into the character’s close connection to his wife.
In Violent Night, Santa Claus was heavily influenced by his naughty/nice list. Once he saw that Scrooge’s mercenaries were considered “naughty,” he killed them without remorse. This could have given the idea that all of the film’s antagonists were beyond redemption, but that wasn’t necessarily the case, as evidenced by the Lightstone family. Aside from Trudy and her parents, Linda and Jason, the Lightstones were incredibly unsavory individuals willing to turn on each other for profit and survival. Going by Santa’s kill logic in the film, the Lightstones seemed, at first glance, irredeemable. Upon closer inspection, however, the movie subtly proposed the idea that even the worst can change.
After Santa was shot, the Lightstones joined Trudy and her parents to revive him. Admittedly, the family’s turn was an unintended consequence of their troubled situation, but their evolution potentially provided a better understanding of Santa Claus’ perception of his violent adversaries. Despite being guided by his list, Santa didn’t necessarily kill them because of an arbitrary morality system. After all, he expressed pity for Scrooge and Gingerbread when discussing their backstories. Instead, Santa killed them because he either realized they were completely lost (like Candy Cane), or didn’t have time to appeal to their humanity. It was a poignant message that tied into Claus’ own redemption path.
Arguably the biggest takeaway of Violent Night is that its interpretation of Santa wasn’t an entirely satirical one. David Harbour’s Father Christmas was disillusioned with humanity and therefore lacked the capability of seeing the joy in his cheer-spreading profession. But, despite that and his propensity for violence, the movie’s protagonist was very much Santa Claus, which was proven during its closing moments. As mentioned, after saving Trudy’s family from Scrooge (who took his name from A Christmas Carol) and his mercenaries, Santa was shot and killed by Commander Thorp. But, following his passing, Trudy’s family regained their faith in Claus, which revived him and restored his long-lost Christmas spirit.
Violent Night used its R-rated story as a vehicle to explore Santa Claus’ emotional growth. Santa’s popularity is such that it’s almost a necessity for adaptations centered around him to have unique hooks for their concepts, as seen with Mel Gibson’s Fatman and The Santa Clause franchise. Violent Night brought Santa Claus to life through a mature lens, but the ending ultimately allowed him to embrace his classic cheerful spirit. With that, the movie was able to present a drastically different iteration of Claus while still taking advantage of his typical depiction as a caring and kind man, aware of the importance of his thousand-year profession.