Violent Night: 4 Reasons David Harbour Is My New Favorite Santa

A bloodied David Harbour holding a sledgehammer in Violent Night.
(Image credit: Universal)

Warning: mild SPOILERS for Violent Night are in play. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, this is your warning to check yourself twice before moving forward. 

As the holiday season approaches and Avatar: The Way of Water makes its way through the new movie releases left to debut in 2022, it’s time to give Violent Night a little more recognition. As I’ve already raved about the film in my official CinemaBlend review, I won’t go too deep into the movie itself. However, I do want to take some time to highlight David Harbour’s Santa, as he’s quickly becoming my new favorite actor in this role. Here’s why I’m a big fan of this latest Kris Kringle, and why he’s risen through the ranks rather quickly. 

Alexis Louder and David Harbour stand with their weapons in front of the Christmas tree in Violent Night.

(Image credit: Allen Fraser/Universal)

Violent Night’s Santa Obviously Kick Ass

Universal has really been into taking “out there” concepts and bringing them to living, ass-kicking life. With the internet falling in love with M3gan and that wild Cocaine Bear trailer attesting to the wild stuff the studio’s been dealing in as of late, Violent Night is a good launching pad for the next couple of months on its calendar. 

And it’s all thanks to David Harbour’s Santa kicking so much ass in this holiday-flavored action movie. The concept itself isn’t new, as we saw Mel Gibson attempt a similar feat with Fatman. That being said, any story can be made new again through a novel interpretation, and that's exactly what happened here.

Writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller’s approach to Santa dishing out skull-crushing justice (with the lore including a hammer named Skullcrusher, no less) is fantastic. It’s easy to pursue a concept like Violent Night, but it’s not a simple feat to create a Santa that you believe delivers both presents and season’s beatings. David Harbour gets to do both, and he does it with a twinkle in his eye.

David Harbour enjoys a Christmas cookie by the fire in Violent Night.

(Image credit: Universal)

Moving down the line of alternative Santa cliches that work to Violent Night’s advantage, David Harbour’s variant of Mr. Claus also happens to love drinking. Our first big introduction to his character is in a bar after all, and we see him nursing a crisis of faith, along with a couple of amber-tinted pints. 

Before you think things are headed into pure Bad Santa territory, this man with the bag has a discerning palate when it comes to his liquor, as well as his baked goods. What's more, this Santa's not a total lout when he’s hitting the sauce, just a bit mournful on where Christmas is heading as a holiday. Throughout the first act of Violent Night, we see Santa delivering gifts and being treated to the same old milk and cookies, delivering video game after video game. Even the brand of cookie doesn’t change from house to house, which makes his arrival at the Lightstone house all the more festive. 

Young Trudy (Leah Brady) helps restore Santa Claus’s faith in Christmas just a tiny bit when he bites into the homemade cookies she leaves out for him. And since they’re laid out near the family bar, Harbour’s holiday merrymaker treats himself to a nice pour of the good stuff. 

The sloppiest thing that happens is he takes a bit of a nap, which only makes him human and keeps him in place to defend the Lightstones when the danger really kicks in. David Harbour's Santa isn't atoning for those particular vices, but he does get a proper redemption arc in his backstory that further highlights just how different Violent Night is from its contemporaries.

David Harbour in Violent Night

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Santa’s Violent Night Origin Story Gets Appropriately Dark

 Here are some slight spoilers for Violent Night, as we do get some insight into why David Harbour is playing a Santa Claus that can put up one hell of a fight. As it turns out, the snippets of backstory we get paint an origin of a Santa who was once a Viking warrior, engaging in the usual bloodlust and thievery that you’d associate with some figures from those days.

Somewhere along the way, jolly old Saint Nicholas changed his life, and started dedicating himself to giving. By giving Santa his own redemption story Violent Night centers the holiday figurehead right at the heart of one of its strongest themes: change for the better. 

Showing us David Harbour as a shirtless warrior Santa, as well as a red suit-clad ballbuster, we’re allowed to believe in the character’s journey back to having faith in his given holiday. Tying together fight scenes and heartfelt conversations about holiday magic, it’s all believable from the viewpoint of what the story tells us, and it’s not sugarcoated.

David Harbour stands next to his sleigh, with his sledgehammer on his shoulder, in Violent Night.

(Image credit: Allen Fraser/Universal)

David Harbour Deftly Sells Both Sides Of This Unique Santa’s Persona

None of this works without the right actor in the role, as Violent Night could have very easily slacked off on the casting. If the movie were in lesser hands, that might have happened, but thankfully 87North Productions was keen on David Harbour for all the right reasons. As anyone can see in the trailer for Violent Night, the Stranger Things actor commits to both sides of Santa and doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of one piece to feed the other.

I’ll admit, I’ve been a fan of David Harbour’s work as an actor since he popped up in Quantum of Solace. His character actor energy lets him fit into so many different roles, while also priming him to be a leading man when given the chance. Violent Night gives Harbour the chance to show his leading man status, while also retaining both his likable and ferocious energy from roles past. Thanks to his skills being so well tuned, and the material he’s given in this film being as excellent as it is, David Harbour takes full advantage of this opportunity, and the entire finished product sings because of it. 

If you were to tell me, based on the logline alone, that Violent Night was going to be a Christmas movie for the ages, I would have severely questioned you. After being burned by two Bad Santa movies and Fatman, I had very little faith that an ass-kicking Santa movie would have worked. Just like the man himself, I found my outlook to be proven wrong in the best way possible. 

Through David Harbour and his Violent Night performance, I believe in Santa Claus taking down the bad guys on Christmas Eve. What’s more, I hope he’s able to do just that every year, which is a hope that producer Kelly McCormick shares as 87North is pretty busy looking at what sequels to move ahead with in the near future. If Santa's season's beatings continue to become a holiday tradition, that's something I could totally get behind.

Whether you’ve read this rundown without seeing the movie or want to see Violent Night pound, stab and kill some villains with Christmas magic yet again, you still have time. The movie is showing only in theaters and definitely deserves to be experienced with a crowd of fellow believers ready to see some halls get decked. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.