“Be careful what you wish for” is the message explored in Patrick Ridremont’s French-Belgium Christmas horror, The Advent Calendar, as Eva (Eugénie Derouand), a former dancer who is now paraplegic, receives an antique, wooden advent calendar from her best friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) for her birthday. Sophie acquired the calendar from Munich’s Christmas Market while visiting Germany. “Dump it and I’ll kill you,” she jokes, but Eva sees that phrase is actually the inscription on the back.
Beginning on December 3rd, Eva opens the first three doors, learning that each will contain a “candy” and she must eat them all and respect the rules until the last day, or she will die. “Sounds grim,” Eva remarks, but Sophie says, “Germans are grim.” Eva quickly learns that each surprise has real life consequences — some good, some bad. For example, a man Eva likes starts to like her back, her Alzheimer-suffering father has a period of lucidity, and revenge is served when she’s sexually assaulted in a car. More creative deaths and entertaining mayhem follows as Eva must decide if she’ll pay the ultimate price to be able to walk again. The film addresses some of the ableism Eva faces, such as her coworker announcing that she thinks she’s really brave for working “in that state,” as Eva is wheelchair-bound.
The Advent Calendar is original enough to keep you hooked and eager to learn how the film will end. Completely made, it has an engaging cast, stunning cinematography, and solid direction. There are subtle lighting changes that affect the entire mood and atmosphere of the film, which complements the overall serious yet humorous tone — also achieved through Derouand’s nuanced and committed performance. While the idea of a haunted or cursed object is a horror staple, The Advent Calendar is an original idea explored with familiar tropes. It’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before.
The only downsides are the pacing. The film takes its time to explore each of the 24 days which makes the first half seem great, while the second half falters. It’s a shame the effects of the calendar aren’t all explored or explained as well, as some days cover only glimpses of the consequences, which feel more like filler. The Advent Calendar might’ve benefited from a deeper focus on a smaller selection of days, while skipping most of the others — but it’s understandable that the story and structure of the film would call for trying to explore each day in the way it does.
The evil behind the calendar, a horrid and malevolent looking being whose image draws inspiration from the likes of Hellraiser’s Cenobites, is shown in unsettling sequences throughout the film. His name is Ich, meaning “I” in German, which invites questions about if this demonic entity feeds on the desires driven by one’s Ego. The film doesn’t explore the origins of Ich, however, as it’s too busy focusing on the moral dilemma Eva faces as the days tick away. Imaginative, thrilling, and thought-provoking, The Advent Calendar is the perfect addition to your Christmas horror rotation, though Christmas isn’t a huge focal point beyond the calendar itself.
The Advent Calendar is available to stream on Shudder now
by Toni Stanger