‘Tis the season for holiday movies to flood theaters and streaming channels.  Once again there is a glut of cheesy, by-the-numbers Hallmark specials, a few genre-mashing oddballs, and faithful re-runs of all-time classics.  But this year we’ve been gifted “Violent Night,” the best Christmas movie since “Die Hard.”

Director Tommy Wirkola must enjoy shooting blood on snowscapes, a skill he honed in the two “Dead Snow” films.  His version of Santa (David Harbour) in “Violent Night” is a jaded grinch who has become weary of all the greed in the world.  He takes no pleasure in the endless requests for cash and video games.  While delivering gifts to the extremely rich and corrupt Lightstone family, he inadvertently finds himself in the middle of a robbery.   Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) is the cold matriarch of the family.  She’s a powerful woman who has weaseled away a large sum of money that only a few people know exists.  One of these people, going by the codename Scrooge (John Leguizamo), plans to relieve the family of this stash.  But amongst all these naughty people there is a nice young girl, Trudy (Leah Brady).  Armed with a walkie-talkie and a love for “Home Alone” she teams up with Santa to give the bad guys the lumps they deserve.

So far, this has the perfect framework for a lazy, mildly entertaining, subversive Christmas massacre.  Instead, Tommy Wirkola takes this basic recipe and kicks it up a few notches.  It’s like the difference between a store-bought and homemade cookie.  The entire soundtrack is composed of Christmas tunes, albeit some altered to fit the tone of the scene they are used in.  The first Santa fight is a joyous one-take battle between two desperate men.  This Santa isn’t immortal.  He can be hurt, he bleeds, and he’s covered in old battler scars.  Sure, there’s a bit of Christmas magic present, but he admits he’s not exactly sure how it works.  The script is also surprisingly sharp and witty.  Even when the one-liners get extra cheesy, they are delivered with such conviction that it’s hard to repress fist pumps.  Not a single instance of foreshadowing is left behind, be it “Home Alone” references, or an ominous icicle.  Perhaps most surprising of all is how sweet the movie can be.  Yes, it’s a very R-rated movie, but it also believes in the power of Christmas.

If you love Christmas, but think it’s better with crimson-soaked snow, you won’t want to miss “Violent Night!”

Violent Night
4.5