For many people, Christmas just isn’t complete without a stolen haunted object that brings death and despair to both the wicked and the innocent. If that fits your idea of the holidays, then Patrick Ridremont’s The Advent Calendar is the perfect cinematic gift for you to unwrap.
Eva (Eugenie Derouand), confined to a wheelchair after a tragic accident three years prior, receives a December birthday gift from her friend, Sophie (Honorine Magnier). It is an ornate wooden Advent calendar complete with small locked numbered doors, each one presumably concealing a gift or piece of candy. This particular gift, like any good present, comes with ominous warnings. Burned into the back of the cabinet is a caution not to get rid of the calendar or else the owner will be killed. When Eva opens the first piece of candy, the wrapper states that if she doesn’t eat every sweet, she will die. As Eva opens each door every night at midnight, it becomes obvious that something evil has taken control of the events of her life and threatens the people in her inner circle.
The Advent Calendar takes the concept of wish fulfillment and smashes it against the wall. Some of the things that happen to Eva seem to lead her closer to her ultimate goal. There is almost always a terrible price to be paid for Eva’s decisions, but not in that Wishmaster way that relies solely on the interpretation of syntax and wordplay. Writer/director Ridremont subtly leads the viewer into a freakish labyrinth of cause and effect that stays away from obvious plot holes.
Derouand’s performance is the main reason The Advent Calendar succeeds. As Eva descends into dark depths of personal madness, she tries to maintain a modicum of control. Derouand projects a combination of assurance and madness as her world begins to crumble. Like any high-functioning addict, Eva cannot stop herself from opening the Advent calendar windows despite her ragged attempts at maintaining normality. Derouand’s dark eyes become emptier as the story progresses. It’s fine work on Derouand’s part, and her face may be the thing you remember most from The Advent Calendar.
Unveiling the physical form of the monster that inhabits the antique box is the film’s major misstep. While the design of the creature is okay, the audience sees him too early and too often. The movie was more effective before the monster appeared on-screen by implying that some ethereal force was insidiously inserting itself into Eva’s life.
To its credit, The Advent Calendar avoids the typical killer Santa Claus tropes and attempts to create a singular horror in the holiday horror sub-genre. To that end, it succeeds. Ridremont’s story is wonderfully twisted and difficult to predict, with a visual flair that sidesteps the normal red and green lighting of Christmas movies.
Most of the story’s loose ends are tied in a bright bow by the end, making The Advent Calendar‘s replay value questionable. While a yearly viewing may not become a Christmas tradition in your household, The Advent Calendar is an intense, well-made Christmas creepfest.
The Advent Calendar premieres on the horror streaming service Shudder on Thursday, December 2.