Violent Night shouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. How can a film best summarized as “Die Hard, but starring the real Santa Claus” be simultaneously subversive and sincere, irreverent and earnest, obscene and wholesome? Somehow, director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) pulls off the delicate balancing act with aplomb, embracing the utterly absurd premise without ever resorting to patronizing irony.
Beneath its excessive violence and foul language, the movie actually tells a rather traditional Christmas story—indeed, it’s reminiscent of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The plot revolves around an alcoholic, pessimistic Saint Nicholas, who has grown disillusioned with the Yuletide season after seeing it perverted and corrupted by commercialism and materialism. When an innocent young girl on his Nice List is kidnapped by some very naughty robbers, however, he gradually rediscovers the true meaning of the holiday: family, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.
Cheesy? Perhaps. But it’s also undeniably effective at making even the Grinchiest viewer’s shriveled, coal-black heart grow three sizes—and it pairs surprisingly well with the practical stunt work and gnarly gore effects. Elevated by solid performances (particularly from David Harbour and John Leguizamo) and creative set pieces (the extended action sequence in which Kris Kringle utilizes a series of increasingly ludicrous improvised weapons—including ice skates, a sharpened candy cane, and an industrial snow blower—is especially impressive), Violent Night is a genuine Christmas miracle; I definitely plan to revisit it in the years to come.