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Arts & Culture

'Violent Night' wishes you season's beatings in R-rated action comedy

Prepare for some season's beatings as Santa takes on a group of mercenaries in the new film "Violent Night."

Actor David Harbour was a big believer in Santa Claus.

"I remember thinking when I saw that plate of cookies and that milk drunk in the morning, those cookies bitten, I really, as a kid thought it was like DNA evidence! I was like, this is forensic evidence that Santa Claus actually exists," Harbour said in a Zoom interview from Budapest, where he was shooting Marvel's "Thunderbolts."

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Now Harbour is playing Santa. But when we meet him, his Santa is feeling depressed over the fact that the holiday he created is no longer bringing him good cheer.

"I think when we start the movie, he's like a saccharine version of himself," Harbour said. "He's what everybody thinks he is. So he's kind of dopey and in this big red suit, kind of fat with the beard and everything, and he doesn't know who the hell he is, really."

In "Violent Night," Santa explains that he created Christmas to celebrate generosity and peace. 

"But it backfired," Harbour said. "(Now) it's a holiday full of greed, and he has to go on this journey to sort of unearth who he was and that he may not have been such a good guy, but that may be necessary this Christmas to really take on the nice and the naughty list."

That’s because mercenaries have taken a family captive on Christmas Eve just as Santa arrives to deliver gifts. He tries to flee, but his reindeer get scared off the roof by gunfire, so he's stuck in the house with a rich, bickering family and some ruthless crooks who want to steal the matriarch's millions.

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But amongst all the naughty folks is one very nice little girl named Trudy, who still believes in Santa.

"What I found was really unique about it was you go on this wild action ride, action comedy ride. And then at the end, you come out with that Christmas movie thing of, like, believing in the spirit of Christmas," Harbour said. "When I read the script, I got a little choked up about him and this little girl. Like, all the lengths he went to save her and how it made him believe in something larger than his self-pity had been. And I really liked that."

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Universal Pictures
David Harbour plays a badass Santa in Tommy Wirkola's "Violent Night."

But being an action Santa in a film produced by stuntman/action choreographer David Leitch and directed by "Dead Snow's" Tommy Wirkola had its challenges. Especially when it comes to fighting in a big red suit.

RELATED 'Dead Snow:' Interview with Tommy Wirkola

"It's harder than being in a superhero suit," Harbour said. He knows from experience, as he has fought in a superhero suit for Marvel.

"Although it is a version of its own superhero suit. But it's not built that way because the big old buckles in the front, there's lots of things that can catch. The worst thing was the beard and the mustache. Because I couldn't grow my own, I had to wear — it's all fake. So there would be horrible takes where I'd be wrestling with some guy, punch me, and then you turn around and my beard would be hanging off. We'd have to do it all again."

But when push comes to shove, Harbour's Santa delivers more than lumps of coal to the bad guys. Leitch and Wirkola pull no punches with this holiday action film. Santa takes a beating and dishes them out as he tries to save Trudy and what's left of Christmas. Wirkola, as he did in his two "Dead Snow" zombie films, displays a wicked and brutal sense of humor and delivers kills with fitting holiday cheer.

Harbour throws himself into the role with gusto and wins us over with a Santa who’s just having a very bad night.

Beth Recommended 12 Days of Action Christmas

  1. "Die Hard"
  2. "Lethal Weapon"
  3. "Long Kiss Goodnight"
  4. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"
  5. "Die Hard 2"
  6. "Riders of Justice" (recent addition)
  7. "First Blood"
  8. "Rocky IV"
  9. "I Come in Peace"
  10. "Red"
  11. "Cobra"
  12. NEW ADDITION: "Violent Night"

"Although I did like bringing a lot of the dry humor of a cynical Santa, one of the things that really was constant is I wanted the movie to have that heart, a beating heart between him and the little girl," he said. "So I kept going back to the original 'Miracle on 34th Street,' and I loved those scenes between that Santa (Edmund Gwenn) and that little girl (a very young Natalie Wood). I wanted our movie to have that same sort of feel to it at the end of the day."

Harbour brings a lot of heart but also a lot of carnage as he decks the halls with the blood of the naughty crooks in this R-rated holiday action comedy. Think 'Die Hard", but with Santa as the reluctant hero taking care of business, and "ho-ho-ho" replacing "yippee-ki-yay." So basically, the perfect Christmas movie for action fans.

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20th Century Fox
Bruce Willis is the classic Christmas action film "Die Hard" (1988).