There is always a need for holiday horror once the Halloween season ends. From the terrifying Black Christmas to Krampus, holiday horror reminds us of its original dark roots. Sometimes, though, the holiday portion of holiday horror takes a backseat. It serves as window dressing as we watch the real story play out. This is the case with THE ADVENT CALENDAR. While the film does take place during the month of December, the Christmas holiday isn’t the focus. Instead, we’re taken through a woman’s moral dilemma in how far she will go to be able to walk again. The advent calendar is the catalyst for her transformation.
We’re introduced to Eva, a paraplegic woman who is trying to survive in an ableist world. She deals with nasty comments and more about her disability daily. This wasn’t always her reality, however. It is revealed that she used to be a dancer, with a bright future ahead of her before the accident. When her friend Sophie stops by to visit Eva from Germany for her birthday, she gifts her an old wooden antique advent calendar. Sophia translates the German for her, revealing a series of concerning rules. It’s not long before Eva realizes each window contains a surprise that triggers activity in real life. At first, things start off well. But, as the days start counting down to Christmas, more is asked from Eva. With the possibility of being able to walk again dangled before her, she will have to question how far she will go to get what she really wants.
The performance delivered by Eugénie Derouand is the driving factor for THE ADVENT CALENDAR‘s success. The character Eva is emotionally complex and Derouand presents a range that draws the viewer in. A woman struggling to survive in an ableist society, the viewer can easily put themselves in her shoes. Ridremont’s writing and director here combined with Derourand’s performance produces empathy from the viewer. That’s why it makes it all the more tragic watching Eva’s downward moral descent play out. The film might have benefited from casting a disabled actor in the role. However, given the physical demands observed in the film, casting an abled actor makes sense here.
The supporting cast also fairs well, with Honorine Magnier’s Sophie being a notable standout. As the best friend, she tries to provide Eva with distractions to make her life more fulfilling. But, much like Eva in some ways, she’s stuck in the past. Trying to assimilate her back into society without taking stock of how society now looks at Eva, Sophie doesn’t get it. And it’s left up to the viewers to determine if perhaps she’s choosing not to get it on purpose. As an introduction to Rideremont’s work, I can say that he constructs intriguing and nuanced characters. Each character we meet on Eva’s journey is memorable and that is partly due to how they are written and the performances of the actors.
The creature featured in THE ADVENT CALENDAR left me mixed. Part of this is due to thinking the introduction to the creature happened too soon. Shown in snippets fifteen minutes into the film, we get a sense of what occupies the calendar early on. Imposing in height, you know you don’t want to ever throw down with it. But, so much is seen, especially later on that I was left wanting. However, the visual power dynamic between the creature and Eva does work, and greatly contributes to the sense of hopelessness in her situation.
There are some incredibly beautiful and breathtaking shots in THE ADVENT CALENDAR. There are certain things that I can’t discuss to try to preserve some level of mystery. However, there are cinematic moments captured throughout certain points of the film that definitely. Whether underwater or just playing around with shadow, it draws the eye. The score composed by Thomas Couzinier and Frédéric Kooshmanian added an extra layer of depth to the escalating thrill of the film. It tonally felt familiar and elicited nostalgia in some ways, as well. I can’t speak to the budget, but the film has a lot of moving parts when it comes to set and production design. Eve Martin’s and Julia Irribarria’s work shines through here.
Certain creative decisions are made in the film that sometimes succeeds in execution. Others, not so much. An example of how a decision didn’t work and instead could have been cut was the usage of incoming light accompanied with sound to represent Eva reliving trauma from her accident. The accident is visually referenced again later on and, in all honesty, could have been the only scene needed to illustrate what happened. On the other end, there’s a scene with the Advent Calendar involving a dog nomming on a car. Quick edits back and forth to a person in a car and the dog’s progressively aggressive nomming illustrate the damage done without needing to destroy an actual vehicle. The exposition introduced after the incident gives the viewer and Eva all they need to know to piece things together. There are moments similar to what I’ve discussed, where sometimes a decision either felt unnecessary or the execution of the creative workarounds was hit/miss.
Thematically, there’s a fair amount to discuss in THE ADVENT CALENDAR. One could write an essay alone on the disability focus in this story. The Faustian elements in the film are familiar territory, the age-old question of “What would we do to get what we most desire?” rings throughout. As is introduced to viewers early on with the reveal of the Germanic advent calendar, the Ich creature (because it’s not entirely explained in the film) ties into how we are our own demons. From a writer’s standpoint, I applaud Ridremont for filling the story with different things to discuss. While it can sometimes get mixed up or lost in the overarching story, there’s a lot to chew on.
As a character study, THE ADVENT CALENDAR succeeds. The battle between what is morally right or wrong is one that never gets old. It’s made all the more powerful when the character is one we want to root for. There’s a level of nihilism to the film itself that may not endear itself to some viewers. For myself, I felt it strengthened the overt horror takeaway of the film. While perhaps not overtly scary, the horror itself dwells in the psychological realm. There are creative decisions made in the execution of certain scenes that can sometimes read as cheap or unnecessary, but sometimes the creative workarounds work. Overall, definitely recommend. A strong outing for both writer/director Patrick Ridremont and Eugénie Derouand.
As a general head’s up for those who need trigger warnings, there is sexual assault and animal death in this film.
Patrick Ridremont’s ornate and elegant French horror fantasy THE ADVENT CALENDAR is now available exclusively on Shudder.
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