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How director Tommy Wirkola's Scandinavian background helped reshape the climax of 'Violent Night'

Can't afford a helicopter? Get a snowmobile instead!

By Josh Weiss
Director Tommy Wirkola and David Harbour on the set of Violent Night.

As production on Violent Night (now streaming on Peacock) slid down the chimney with care, it became abundantly clear to director Tommy Wirkola that the film's relatively modest budget would not be able to accommodate the original climax involving a bazooka, Mrs. Claus, Santa's sleigh, and Mr. Scrooge's getaway helicopter. The final confrontation needed to be scaled down considerably, prompting Wirkola to tap into his Norwegian roots and conceive of a smaller — albeit no less effective — chase sequence with snowmobiles.

"I’ve always loved snowmobiles in movies. I am a big snowmobiler myself," he tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "I grew up in the north and I felt like there's never been a good snowmobile chase in any film. Yeah, there’s a little bit in James Bond, and Die Hard 2 is obviously the biggest one. It was also shot by a Scandinavian [Renny Harlin], probably because he loves snowmobiles [too]. So I wanted to bring snowmobiles into the final set piece, but I also wanted there to be a mano a mano fight with Scrooge and Santa, where there's more emotion involved. So we made that whole thing of Scrooge hating Christmas bigger and we tried to build up to that and make sure that at the end, it was Santa versus Scrooge outside in the snow and a very wintry, Christmassy landscape."

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That "wintry" backdrop came courtesy of Winnipeg, Canada (standing in for Connecticut), which turned out to be even colder than Wirkola's country of origin. Given that most of the film takes place at night, the cast and crew found themselves shooting under frigid conditions where temperatures often dipped well below negative 25-30 degrees Celsius, the filmmaker says.

"It gave the look and feel of the film an edge, which I thought was really important ... It was tough at times, but you’re making a movie, so it’s fun. It’s just cold; the crew and the actors are grumpy. But I think we all felt it was worth it and I’m very much an advocate of shooting outside and in real locations, feeling the cold and feeling the snow. It was a cold shoot, but totally worth it."

Written by Sonic the Hedgehog scribes Pat Casey and Josh Miller, the film stars David Harbour (Stranger Things) as the red-coated resident of the North Pole, who leaves toys under the tree for all the good little boys and girls. The big difference here is that this version of Kris Kringle has absolutely no problem beating the ever-loving tinsel out of a group of armed mercenaries trying to rob a heavily-fortified family compound on Christmas Eve.

"How can we combine a big, sappy Christmas movie that really embraces the heart with the nature of a gonzo action movie? That was my way in and that was why I attached myself," Wirkola explains. "I thought it could be a really fun challenge, but also the script was good. It was funny, had great characters, good humor, and I really felt like it was my kind of tone that I could have fun with."

The director cites Bad Santa as a shining example of how to carefully blend "a very classical Christmas movie storyline" with more adult-oriented elements without alienating the audience. "It just showed, to me, that you can be super raunchy, but when you leave the theater, you can still walk out feeling you've seen a Christmas movie and feel the Christmas spirit."

As the night progresses and St. Nick slips deeper into the spiritual shoes of John McClane, we learn that jolly ol' Père Noël began his life centuries ago as a ruthless Viking warrior known for drenching his beloved hammer — lovingly dubbed "Skullcrusher" by the Norse juggernaut — in the blood of anyone stupid (or unlucky) enough to get in his way.

"David was very clear, ‘I'm not going to try to play it too funny and I’m not going to try to play it too cool. We should wait with that and let it naturally evolve and have him become an action hero again and not go too much too fast,'" Wirkola adds. "We talked a lot about 'how do we unravel the layers of our Santa and where do we show what?' At the end, we ... wanted there to be a rebirth [full of] craziness and action and blood and having him come out the other side by having found himself again."

(from left) David Harbour and director Tommy Wirkola on the set of Violent Night.

Throughout the course of its wide theatrical run, Violent Night racked up more than $75 million worldwide (against an estimated budget of $20 million) and a stocking stuffed full of positive feedback from critics and audiences. It currently holds a fresh 73 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, with many viewers publicly pledging to add it to their list of annual holiday watches. 

"That was what we hoped for and dreamt of," Wirkola concludes. "Hopefully, this is a film people will watch many Christmases from now on. And if so, that makes me feel like we succeeded."

Violent Night is now streaming on Peacock and available to purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray. A sequel is in development.