Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Alex Hassell, Beverly D'Angelo
Released: December 2, 2022
I feel like this movie was made because of the "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" debate. Because this movie is basically Die Hardexcept Santa Claus (David Harbour; guess he had a little break from Stranger Things) is now taking the role of John McClane. And, for the record, I definitely think Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it takes place at a Christmas party, there's Christmas songs, there's a Christmas tree, and who can forget the dead terrorist wearing a Santa hat and the message John McClane left for the deceased's friends: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho." However, despite all that, I think it is easy to forget it's a Christmas movie once it gets going because it's not saturated in Christmas-y goodness. Also, it takes place in a warm weather location and I need my Christmas movies to have snow, damnit! This movie, on the other hand, you don't forget it's Christmas. There's snow, there's Christmas decorations (complete with a large Christmas tree), there's plenty of Christmas music, there's nods to other Christmas movies, and Santa Claus (the REAL Santa Claus, this isn't some mall Santa!) plays a big part.
It's Christmas Eve and we first meet Santa at a pub in London where he's "taking a break between shifts". There's another man dressed as Santa who tells the real Santa he's been doing this gig for four years now and the real Santa tells him he's lost count of how long he's been doing it and forget why he started in the first place. The faux Santa tells him it's for the money (do mall Santas really make that much? I guess it might be some nice extra money during the holidays) and Santa tells him that "this whole planet runs on greed." This is a very cynical Santa. He has noticed that kids just want the next present as soon as they open one, that "they just want care, consume." He thinks this might be his last Christmas.
Santa had mentioned he needed to get back to his sleigh to deliver the rest of the presents and the barmaid and mall Santa had just chuckled at this, but when he gets up to leave, he hands the barmaid a gift for her grandson which has his name on it, then leaves out the door that leads to the roof. The woman wants to know how he even knows her grandson's name or how he even knows she has a grandson, then chases him out the door once she realizes he's on the roof. She doesn't seem him, but then sees a sleigh and reindeer flying and he flies over her and pukes on her head. We're really setting the tone for this movie. Now, I can handle a bad guy getting his eye gorged out with a sharp star ornament (spoiler alert!), but someone getting vomit on their head? Ugh, no thanks. I could have done without that!
We're now in Greenwich, Connecticut, where we will stay for the rest of the film. We meet Trudy, a girl of about eight or so (I thought she was six, but we find out later she's older than six, but I am horrible at trying to figure out how old kids are!) and she is the epitome of pureness and goodness. Her parents, Jason (Alex Hassell) and Linda (Alexis Louder) are separated (we find out why later in the film), but they are coming together for their daughter's sake to spend Christmas at Jason's mother's mansion.
When Trudy and her mom pick up her dad, she tells him, "Merry Christmas, Daddy, ya filthy animal" and we find out that she watched Home Alone the night before. I thought this was just a fun little shoutout to a classic Christmas movie, but this will actually come back in a big way later.
Gertrude Lightstone, the matriarch of the family is played by Beverly D'Angelo and I have to admit I didn't recognize her at first, especially because her voice is so raspy. It is a fun little wink that they got the mother/wife from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The Lightstones are very wealthy from their company (something involving oil, maybe? I don't really know exactly how they made their fortune) and Gertrude (no mention of her husband, so he's out of the picture whether he's dead or they're divorced) lives in a compound so huge that it's gated and a guy works at the little post at the front of the gate and lets people in and out of the grounds. The guy's name? Al. That cannot be a coincidence. This guy was clearly named after one Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohson's character from Die Hard). Honestly, they might as well just named him Carl Winslow and we would have gotten the wink. But unlike Die Hard Al, who survives the movie (pretty sure he survives the entire franchise), this Al will not make it and as soon as I saw him let Trudy and her parents through the gates, I go, Oh, this guy isn't making it out of this movie alive. (Spoiler alert: I was right).
You know, for a mansion with huge grounds, they were pretty stingy with the outdoor decorations. I saw a lit-up deer, a wreath, and a few lights that were wrapped around tree trunks. The inside was a little more festive at least, but, man, that outside was lacking. I guess since nobody can see their house from the outside since it's hidden from view and it's on a private road, they don't think it's worth to decorate the exterior.
We meet the rest of the Lightstones who aren't the most likable of people. Gertrude is very foul-mouthed and doesn't have any qualms about swearing in front of her young granddaughter (who Trudy is named after, although Gertrude thinks her nickname makes her sound like "a whore"). Her grown children seem to be a little scared of her and accuse the other of always sucking up to her. Jason has a sister named Alva (Edi Patterson) who tells him she thinks this is the year their mom is gonna choose one of them to "start running the show."
Trudy is enthralled by the gift and immediately starts talking to "Santa". Her parents leave and they can hear her talking behind the closed door. She tells "Santa" she was extra good this year and wrote him a list with all the stuff she wanted, but the she realized she didn't really need any of that stuff and instead the only presents she really wants for Christmas is for "Mommy and Daddy to make up so we can be a family again." Boy, that's enough to make any parent feel guilty!
At the house, there's a bunch of catering people and other people hired for the holiday party. Right away, I could spot the bad guys who are sprinkled among the workers. They were the ones that gave sinister looks or weren't smiling. I understand they need to find a way to get the bad guys in the house, but it's literally just Gertrude and six other people. There are more workers than family members; it seems a little overkill to have all those extra people there, but again, I understand it's part of the plot.
Before Santa will inevitably arrive at this house, we get a funny montage of him delivering presents and you can tell he's just so over it. At one house, you see a bunch of Amazon packages under the tree and that made me chuckle. At another house he finds a list where a kid has told him he just wants "cash" and "video games". Aren't kids supposed to tell Santa what they want BEFORE Christmas so he already has it with him? Duh.
Our bad guys soon take over after their leader, who calls himself Scrooge (John Leguizamo), shows up and kills Al (poor Al never had a chance), then enters the house where all the security and staff are killed too. Those poor people never had a chance, either. Scrooge has a team of people and they're all given Christmas code names: Gingerbread, Candy Cane, Peppermint, Jingle, Sugarplum, Krampus, Frosty, Tinsel." I'll tell you right now: Gingerbread, Candy Cane, and Krampus are really the only ones that have the most screen time. Gingerbread cuts the phone lines so no one can call for help. It is funny that Scrooge gave his team these code names since he hates Christmas (hence why his name is Scrooge).
Before they start killing the staff and security, Jason and Linda have a conversation. We find out they're estranged because Gertrude keeps coming between them and causing rifts. He tells Linda that they can just walk away from his family and the company and never have to see them or deal with them again. Before he can continue, gunfire is heard downstairs. Santa, still in the massage chair, also hears this too.
Scrooge instructs two of his cronies to bring all the Lightstones to the living room and to kill anyone else they find. Santa is hiding in a room with a fireplace and he tries to use his magic (by touching his nose) to go up the chimney, but it won't work. Tinsel finds him and they get into a fight. Tinsel starts firing his gun, but when Santa tries to get the gun away from him, he ends up shooting at the roof and the reindeer are scared off and fly away. Let's just say Tinsel has a gruesome death when ends up impaled on a large icicle decoration right below the window. Santa also ends up outside and is about to get the hell out of there, but when he looks up he can see a scared looking Trudy in the living room with the rest of her family, so he decides he's going to stay and get help.
In the living room, we learn that Scrooge has "spent months planning a complex break-in to the most secure private residence in the country." We also learn that he's there to take $300 million in cash that he knows is in the vault.
We get more stupidity from Morgan when he tells Alva that this reminds him of a scene from one of his movies called Dark Ransom and if these guys didn't have guns, he could take out three or four of them.
Gertrude tells Scrooge that if he had done his research, he would know that her brother was kidnapped in the '70s, but her father never called the police, but instead sent in their own private extraction team and her brother was home a week later and the kidnappers were never found. He tells her he knows all about that and her extraction team and how long it's going to take them to get there. (Surely the extraction team they have now isn't the same one they had in the '70s, because those guys would be old).
The bad guys are communicating by radio and Candy Cane calls Scrooge when she finds the impaled Tinsel.
Meanwhile, in another room, Santa is trying to call for help, but the phones are dead. He hears Frosty approaching him and reaches in his bag of toys (bag of tricks?) to find a weapon, but all he seems to pull out are video games. His sack looks empty, but the way it works, you reach in and a gift comes out. Even though all of these gifts are wrapped (in the same red and white striped wrapping; where's the fun in that?), Santa always seems to know what it is. There is one moment he pulls out a small toy guitar that's easy to tell what it is because of the shape. We get a funny line where he mutters, "Doesn't anyone ever ask for a bat or a sword or Molotov cocktails?" The best he can come up with is a doll which he uses to bash Frosty on the head with after sneaking up on him. Santa reaches in to see what else he can find and there's a nice little wink when he pulls out Die Hard on Blu-ray. Of course, since the gifts are wrapped, Santa has to say what it is out loud for our benefit.
Even though Frosty gets knocked in the head a few times with a stocking full of pool/billiard balls (they're in a room with a pool table), he is still conscious. (Frosty the Iron Man?) Somehow he gets the upper hand on Santa, having him in a tight grasp. In their struggle, the Christmas tree (I think they must have a Christmas tree in every room or maybe it just seems that way) has fallen over. Santa starts reaching for ornaments to smash against Frosty's head, but nothing works. Finally he reaches for the pointy Christmas tree star topper and jams it in his eye. Yes, this is the scene I'd rather watch than someone getting puke on their head. Okay, maybe I'm being a little hyperbolic, but I really can't stand vomit. Frosty is still alive (owww!), but Santa turns his lights out ironically when he plugs in the string of lights it was attached to and it electrocutes him.
Santa collects Frosty's radio and hears Scrooge, Gingerbread, and Candy Cane talking about how the Kill Squad (what Gertrude calls her extraction team) won't be there for another two hours. Santa tries to see if he can call for help by trying a different channel, but gets Trudy, who asks, "Can you hear me, Santa?" Before this whole scene, we had seen Trudy on the couch talking into the ear pierce. Now while nobody is sitting right next to her, there are still people in the room (obviously, since they're being held hostage) and surely they can hear her end of the conversation. I guess they just think she's playing pretend and not actually talking to a live person, let alone the real Santa! I guess this is why they gave her an ear pierce to talk into!
She tells Santa her name and he takes out his magical scroll which shows any name he needs to look up and whether they're on the "Nice" or "Naughty" list and traits on why they're either one. (All the bad guys are on the naughty list; what a shock. Although, to be honest, I'm surprised there are adults on the list; I would think it would only be reserved for children.) I paused the movie to see all the reasons why Trudy is on the nice list:
-sweet to everyone
-listens to parents
-kind to animals
-kept room clean
And the one that made me laugh:
-invited weird kid to party
From their conversation, Santa realizes there are still six bad guys left. He tells her he's going to help her and her family and asks if she has any suggestion and she must tell him about the phone at the front gates, but when he gets there he finds Al dead and the phone line dead.
Santa puts the radio away and we see that he's bleeding quite heavily (he was gashed on his side with a sharp object when fighting with Frosty) so he goes into a room where he bandages his wound with wrapping paper.
This brings me to a point I've brought up in other movies that deal with Santa Claus existing in that film's universe: if Santa is real, wouldn't everyone know about it? Who do they think is leaving all the gifts under the tree? The other parent or the grandparents? I understand why they have people (usually adults) not believing him in because it is a fun reveal when they do realize he's real, but surely if he was real, the secret would be out.
Trudy hides in the attic and calls Santa on the radio to tell him where she is. Seeing them chat on the Walkie-Talkies felt very Die Hard to me. However, Trudy has another movie on her mind. She tells Santa that she "can set up booby traps, like in Home Alone." Santa replies that he doesn't know what that means, but she should do it quietly. I guess Santa doesn't have time to watch Christmas movies since he's preoccupied with other stuff around that time of year!
She asks him if he really is Santa Claus and that her dad told her that Santa isn't real and that her parents give her gifts and say they're from Santa. Santa tells her that a lot of parents say that to their kids, but that he "still brings presents to kids that need me; kids who really believe." He tells her that he remembers she wrote to him when she was six (I seriously thought she was six right now, so I'm guessing she's eight) and in her letter she told him she felt lonely so he brought her Mr. Bunny, her stuffed rabbit that's already been introduced to the audience. He also remembers when she wrote and told him she had a dream where she flew and her Christmas wish was to fly. He said that even though he had magic, he didn't have the magical ability to make a little girl fly (can make reindeer fly, though! Just saying, Santa!) and gave her a kite for that Christmas. This confirms for Trudy that he is the real Santa.
Santa tells her not to be too hard on her parents because "grown-ups have a hard time believing in things." Trudy asks if he can use his Christmas magic to have her parents reconcile, but he tells her it doesn't work like that. He says that he and Mrs Claus are going on year 1100 and that "grown up relationships are complicated."
We get some backstory on Santa when we (and Trudy) find out that he had a life before this "a long, long, long time ago." He used to be called "Nicomund the Red" (because he had red hair, I presume) and he was a viking/warrior and he used to be "a warrior, a raider, a thief" and had a large hammer he called Skullcrusher and you can guess why it was named that! Trudy asks him why he used to do those things and he tells her because he was "mean" and "greedy" and that if there was a "naughty list" back then, he'd be at the top of it. So how the hell did this guy become Santa Claus? We really need an origin story for this Santa!
It makes sense that this Santa has a background of being a brutal warrior and is no stranger to killing people. I mean, can you imagine if 1994 Richard Attenborough's Santa from Miracle on 34th Street found himself in this predicament? He wouldn't be making it out alive. No pop culture Santa would. You just can't throw a good and pure-hearted Santa into this situation and just have him act like he's John McClane!
Trudy tells him maybe he can use all the bad things he's done in the past to do "good things instead." She says that he's "good and kind" and he can help her family and adds "You mean more than just the presents you bring. That's why I believe in you, Santa." Damn it, Trudy, stop making me cry! (Disclaimer: I actually didn't cry during this movie, but if I had, this would have been the scene to bring me closest to tears.) He tells her to stay hidden until he can get to her.
Back in the living room, Krampus wants them to open their presents because he wants to see what "rich a-holes get each other" and that they might as well see what they got for Christmas before they die. Morgan uses this opportunity to give his present to Gertrude which is a pitch for the movie he wants her to fund and he adds that this is "a gift of a golden opportunity" Alva gives her mother "a sentimental photo of the day [she] was born." Ha, I honestly don't know which gift is worse. They're both very self-involved. Gertrude wants to see Jason's presents, but he tells her he left it in the car. Bert tells him he remembers seeing him put a gift under the tree, but Jason insists it's in the car. Now, I admit, at first I thought he was trying to use that as an excuse to go to his car and drive away and get help, but obviously they weren't going to let him leave just to get a gift out of his car. Or they would have someone (with a gun) escort him. Krampus grabs the gift and it's whiskey, but when Gertrude reads the note, she doesn't look too pleased. Alva wants to know what the card says, but she tells her it's between her and Jason.
We get another update that the extraction team will be arriving in thirty minutes and we see the team getting prepared to leave with their leader, Commander Thorp, telling them to take care of "any idiot who gets in their way."
When Scrooge asks who he is, he lists a bunch of names including "Weihnachtsmann", "Babbo Natale", "Pere Noel", "Kris Kringle", "Jolly old Saint Nick", and that "people call [him] a lot of things." Gingerbread wants to know where his reindeer are and he says they ran off because they were scared by the gunfire. Candy Cane is gullible enough that she starts to believe that he actually may the real Santa, but Scrooge isn't buying any of it. He throws the bag into the fire which enrages Santa.
We get to hear the backstory of why Scrooge hates Christmas. Little Jimmy Martinez (his real name) didn't use to always hate it, but when was 11/12/13 (I can't remember how old he said he was), his dad got laid off and they didn't have a Christmas that year because they weren't able to afford anything, but their neighbors had gone all out for Christmas and he felt like they were rubbing salt in the wound, I guess, so he snuck into their house on Christmas Eve to steal their presents (his code name should have been Grinch!), but the grandfather was up to use the bathroom and he was scared by seeing an intruder and fell down the stairs and broke his neck, then later died in the hospital. I was a little confused because Scrooge says that everyone accused him of doing it, then says he may have pushed the old man. Well, whether he pushed him or not, he was the one to cause him to hurt himself since he was the one who scared the old man! I get that it's worse if he purposely pushed him. Also, if Gramps fell down the stairs, why did Jimmy even go upstairs in the first place? Or did Gramps just hear/ see someone downstairs and got startled and fell? I'm a little confused when I probably shouldn't even give this any thought. Also, Phoebe Cates called and she would like to say her character in Gremlins had a much worse Christmas memory (third paragraph from the bottom, but seriously, does anyone not know what I'm talking about?)
Santa calls them by their real names and while Gingerbread and Candy Cane (I don't remember what their real names were) wonders how he knows their names, Scrooge doesn't really question it. He points a gun to Santa's head and tells him he has five seconds to tell them who he really is and he's not accepting "Santa Claus" as an answer. Before he can pull the trigger, they're distracted because "snow" is starting to fall and Candy Cane thinks he's "doing this with his Santa magic." Well, of course, it's just Trudy who has dumped a bunch of Styrofoam bits through the grate.
During all this distraction, Santa is able to knok himself over and use his magic to go up the chimney. The others had their backs turned, but Gingerbread saw the last few seconds of it and Scrooge thinks there are rigs and pulleys to help him do that "trick".
Okay, now is the time I'm going to put a spoiler warning up. I don't think anything I've mentioned so far has been too spoiler-y. There's a couple of twists coming up (though I predicted one and I should have realized the other one) and I will be revealing (if anyone) if any of the hostages or anyone else of importance dies.
SPOILER ALERT IN 3....2.....1!
Everyone can hear the extraction team (there must be about 30 of them?) approaching on their snow mobiles. Morgan and Bert taunt Krampus that they are about to be saved. Morgan, feeling confident, I guess, punches him, but when Krampus begins to fight back, Morgan runs and jumps out the widow (I guess he was feeling like he was in an action movie) and tells the extraction team he's one of the hostages.
Okay. When we first heard about the extraction team and were given updates of when they would arrive, I knew they would be working for Scrooge now. For one thing, there was just too much time left for the hostages to be rescued. For another thing, I just found it so super obvious. And I was right. Morgan is shot and killed. Totally called it that he would die.
Commander Thorp is given the update by Scrooge about the Santa running around and he has his men posted around the property to keep an eye out for him. He joins Scrooge and a few others in the room with the vault, attempting to open it. Obviously, Scrooge has promised Thorp a share of the money for his help. He has a key that will help open it. Ironically, while they're working on opening it, Thorp shares an anecdote of when he was a kid he loved opening presents so much, that his mother would give him empty wrapped boxes for him so he could unwrap them and he didn't care if anything was inside. Sheesh, what a waste of paper! Well, guess what? The vault opens....and nothing is inside! I bet he cares now!
Scrooge doesn't understand how this could have happen because he had "rock solid" intel and he knows that 300 million in cash was delivered to this residence yesterday. He thinks "somebody must have intercepted it." Do you remember the card Jason wrote to his mom? He was the one who took the money and told his mom in the card. Of course, he thought he would be long gone with it and his wife and daughter and that his mom would find out about it the next morning when she read the note. He only reveals this to Scrooge when he's about to shoot Linda because he doesn't think an in-law would know about the money. He and Gertrude (not really sure why she goes with them) lead him out to a life-size replica of a manger and the money is hidden in the hay. He gives orders to Krampus to kill the remaining hostages, but they are able to overtake him and kill him by beating him with some fire pokers.
While all that is going on, Santa is in a tool shed (one that's the size of a barn) where he finds a sledgehammer and this helps him single-handedly kill a bunch of the Kill Squad set to Bryan Adams' "Christmas Time" (which I always thought was called "Something About Christmas Time"). Other fun Christmas-y weapons of choice include an ice skate blade and a candy cane shiv. That reminds me; I haven't had a candy cane yet this holiday season! What is wrong with me?
Now we get to the part of the film that me me simultaneously made me laugh and cover my eyes in horror while I cringed. I call this the R-rated Home Alone scene. Trudy has managed to set up a few traps and I was amazed that she set all this up in a couple hours, tops, but the I realized that in Home Alone it took Kevin a couple hours to set up all his traps which seems insane. Gingerbread and Candy Cane are walking through the upstairs hall when they see a board of nails (the sharp sides facing up, of course) on the floor and the ladder that leads to the attic is down with a nail on one of the rungs. Gingerbread calls up to her, "Booby traps don't work unless you hide them." Trudy hears him and radios Santa to tell him the bad guys have found her and he says he's on his way.
Gingerbread climbs the ladder, but Trudy has done something to one of the rungs so it's lose and he falls and his chin lands on the nail. Ahhhhhh, no! I honestly think that was way worse than the dude who got a star ornament stuck in his eye. Candy Cane climbs over him and enters the attic, but Trudy has lined up about five or six bowling balls and released them so they bounce off a small trampoline and roll towards her. She is able to get out of the way and they end up falling on Gingerbread. By this time he has lifted his chin off the nail (owwwwwwwwww) and one of the bowling balls knocks him into the board of nails. He pulls a nail out of his butt and stupidly looks closely to it. I wasn't really sure what he was doing, but it was very close to his eye and I was cringing hard just waiting for the last bowling ball to drop and send the nail in his eyes. Well, instead of his eye, it jabs him right in the middle of the forehead and he falls over, dead. So are you still on the nice list if you kill someone even if it's in self defense?
After Trudy gets stuck in super glue and steps on ornaments (she had to take her shoes off), she's getting pissed off. The only contraption Trudy has left is a slingshot that doesn't really do anything but make the woman even more irate. Candy Cane takes out her gun, but here comes Santa to save the day. He's just like Old Man Marley! But instead of a shovel, he has a sledgehammer. Since she's still alive, he finishes her off. Now, isn't Santa a murderer in this scene? Yes, he has killed many other people this night, but that was in self defense, but here Candy Cane is pretty defenseless. Yes, she is a bad person, but maybe they should have tied her up and let the cops deal with her.
Santa and Trudy meet up with the others in the living room and nobody really questions who this man dressed like Santa is, probably since they know he's helping them. Santa and Linda go outside to eliminate some of the men that are with Jason and Gertrude. There's some tense moments and many of the Kill Squad are killed, but Scrooge and Thorp (and maybe a couple more) are able to get away with the money on the snow mobiles. Jason and Linda passionately kiss when they realize they're both safe (for the moment) and Trudy sees this.
We soon get to our stand off between Santa and Scrooge and Scrooge realizes that this is the real Santa when he gets his hands on the scroll and sees his name on the naughty list. Here are some of the reasons why he made that list:
-killed his best friend
-broke his mother's heart
Okay, what if you hate Christmas, but you're not a murderer? Would you still be on the naughty list? This proves to Scrooge that Santa is real. Now Scrooge wants to kill him so Christmas will end forever. He gets the upper hand on Santa, but Santa kills him by stuffing him up a chimney. Don't even ask me how that worked, but it certainly looked like an unpleasant death. Oh, and Thorp is killed by Gertrude so all our bad guys are dead as far as I know.
Santa isn't doing too well and the others are gathered around him. He's cold and there are fires around him from the snow mobile crashes, but they're going out so they need to find something to burn to keep them going. Jason grabs the money from the snowmobiles and Alva isn't happy about that.
Santa tells Trudy he thinks he used up all his Christmas magic and that he's sorry he didn't give her what she asked for, but Trudy tells him that he did. He dies (I thought he was just unconscious, but it is confirmed that he's dead) and I'm thinking, Wow, this movie is really gonna kill off Santa. Jason comments that "whoever he was, he was a brave man." Trudy insist that he's Santa and that she'll always believe in Santa. This makes everyone go around saying they also believe in Santa. (Linda believes in him because he saved Trudy and saved their family). Santa wakes up and Jason is shocked because he was dead. Santa replies, "Christmas magic." Jason tells him he doesn't know how he'll ever replay him, but Santa tells him since he brought him back from the dead, they'll call it even. I mean, are we sure he just wasn't unconscious?