[Interview] Patrick Ridremont for THE ADVENT CALENDAR
Courtesy Shudder
Eva (Eugénie Derouand, Paris Police 1900), an ex-dancer, is now using a wheelchair, unable to walk. When her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier, Tomorrow is Ours) gives her an old wooden antique advent calendar before Christmas, she realizes each window contains a surprise that triggers repercussions in real life. Some of them are good, but most of them are bad, really bad. Now Eva will have to choose between getting rid of the calendar or walking again – even if it causes death and destruction to everyone she holds dear around her.

For the release of the holiday horror film THE ADVENT CALENDAR (LE CALENDRIER), Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with writer/director Patrick Ridremont, where they discussed the familial inspiration behind making a horror about an advent calendar, how a coach on set helped shape the disability focus of Eva’s treatment in the story, and further background on that demonic figure we see in the film.

Head’s up, but there are spoilers in this interview.

What initially drew you into writing a horror around an advent calendar?

Patrick Ridremont: The idea of a horror movie started when I wanted to make a movie with young actors and not famous actors, because I love young actors. And I remember myself when I was younger, and hoping that a director will come to me with a project and, when you’re not famous, directors are not coming to you with big projects about social things. They’re coming to you with a short movie and maybe a horror movie, or a what the fuck movie. That’s why I decided to make a horror movie because we don’t need famous actors to play in that movie. That’s the first part of the answer.

And why did I choose an advent calendar? Well, funny fact, my stepsister is in love with the calendar. She was born on the first of December, and everybody offers her a calendar, but she just eat all the candies the first day. So she’s not waiting until the 24th. And I said, Okay, let’s make a calendar with rules. You have to respect the rules. The first one, naturally, you may not eat all the candies on day one, and you may not say, I already have that calendar. So take it back. It’s a present. Keep it. You may not give it back. You may not sell it on eBay, and you may not throw it in the dustbin. So that’s rule number two. If you throw it away, I kill you. So it started like this. Okay, the calendar is a good present. Respect the rules, especially if it comes from a German Christmas market. It’s weird enough to be respected.

Did you tell your stepsister that she helped to inspire this?

Patrick Ridremont: I was hoping that she could see it in a movie and understand that she was my inspiration. But the movie is not broadcast on the cinema. And so, I have to tell her the truth on Sunday, because Sunday, Santa Claus, and all the families are gathering to give the kids presents. And I will tell her that she was my source of inspiration, and there are no copyrights, and I won’t pay her for that. But I will offer another advent calendar probably.

That’s funny. I have my own stories that are inspired by people, and it’s always one of those questions of do you want to tell them? [makes face] You have an extensive acting background, so how did that influence your directing process? Because sometimes they’re directors who don’t have that particular background, and it’s interesting to see how that influences the approach.

Patrick Ridremont: It helps me on step one as a writer of the screenplay. French is not your language, but I know that sometimes when you receive a screenplay in French, the directors, one of the writers they will say, “Okay, you may change the words.” I don’t say you can change the words. I say the words are good. They are made to be said by actors, and I’m an actor myself, and when I write, I read it and I play it. I stand up. I play every sentence. So, they have good sentences. And then, I want them to have fun. I want them to be proud of the scenes that they are playing in.

When my actors watch the movie and say, Wow, the scene we shoot in the swimming pool. The swimming pool was blue. The water was cold. It was noisy. It was hard because it was not a swimming pool made for movie shooting. When they see the results, oh my god, I [will] put that in my reel. I want all my friends to see that scene. And the actor who played the rapist, when he saw that scene, he said, “Oh my god, I’m so disgusting. I hate myself. I’m so happy to play that scene.” They all have that reaction of saying, “Wow.” No one, even if they just have one day of shooting, no one is just a silhouette. I hate when characters just have to say, “What time is it?” You have some people in the street and someone stops and says, “Excuse me? What time is it?” “It’s nine past seven.” “Oh, fuck. I’m late. I’m late!” and that actor is just saying something that is useless. They aren’t proud to say it, and it will probably be cut in the edit.

I love actors and I want to give them good scenes, good sentences, and well, making movies is a game and I want them to be a part of the game and to have fun.

Eugénie Derouand as Eva l Photo Credit: JEAN-CLAUDE LOTHER/Shudder

As a former actor, I appreciate that approach so much. This leads me to the character Eva. Because of how physical the role is, how did you prepare Eugénie [Derouand]? Because people don’t realize how physically intensive being in a wheelchair is.

Patrick Ridremont: There was a coach, and that coach was living in a wheelchair herself. So she was coaching the actress, and she was always also coaching me when I was writing the screenplay. The first thing she said, I was wondering because people reading the screenplay said to me, “Okay, it’s a little bit too much the way the boss is talking to her. The way her friend is talking to her.” And that coach just told me it’s not too much. That’s my life. That’s the way people are talking to me. That’s my real life. So don’t be shy with that, say to your producer that wants to see that, that doesn’t want to see that, that this is the truth. So, we were convinced. She was there all the time, even for the object in the bathroom, and we were pretty sure that we were doing the good things. She was coaching Eugénie in the way she has to sit on that wheelchair, the way she have to get back in that wheelchair, because you can be on the ground, and she’s on the ground many times of that movie, and to get back in that chair one should be credible not to have all the handicap people watching the movie and say, “Okay, come on. Come on. I don’t believe in that.”

That’s not the biggest part of our job. Because the other one is, being an actress, it’s hard enough, even if you’re not being in a wheelchair, especially when it’s your first big role. She was already 30 years old. I don’t mean it’s old. But she has been an actress for more than 10 years, with an agent with no great part. And then, she was under pressure, not from me, but from herself, and I have to tell her all the time she was perfect, but not too much. I prepared her. The coach prepared her and she had to prepare herself and she did. She did well. I just saw the movie the day before yesterday and I’m always amazed by her the way she’s playing. Always.

You accidentally answered the question I had about the disability representation. a lot of the experiences we see onscreen are relatable, and you answered how the coach helped you out with the realism.

Patrick Ridremont: Some people asked me, “Why did you make it with a handicap?” And I said, Okay, let’s have a look and just remember that window 24 is the miracle of Christmas. So, we need something people are living with, but they choose suicide because that’s not life. It’s really an everyday nightmare [for some people]. And if that character, if she is in love with someone that is gone and the Miracle of Christmas is that guy coming back? Okay, this is a romantic comedy. It’s not a miracle. That’s life that he is not alive. If he is a student who is still at school because he’s fucking up his exam, and on the 24th of December the miracle is, okay, you got your A! okay, you got it. Well, I don’t want that. I wanted a real disease to have a real miracle. Something, in the end where you can say, “Okay, that’s a real choice.”

And, something I was not aware of, but when you are in a wheelchair, and when you are facing the devil or something that looks like the devil, you don’t run. You can’t. The first thing is you can’t run and the proof is that even someone without this issue, why should he run? You don’t run when you see the devil. He is faster than you. Only dinosaurs can’t reach you if you are hiding in the tree. But the devil will see. God can grab you anywhere you go. So it was interesting for me to have the character who was never running, and even in her wheelchair, she is not moving fast. She’s just thinking very coldly and I think it helps a little bit. It is pretty much the actress and the character I wrote. I love that. I love that.

Photo Credit: JEAN-CLAUDE LOTHER/Shudder

You mentioned the devil that she faces. What was your conceptualizing process for it? Because there are ruins etched into the skin and he has no eyes. How did that character design evolve?

Patrick Ridremont: Things were designed before the shooting and the idea is that entity inside that Advent Calendar is a dead German soldier priest, who died during World War One. He exploded. He exploded on a mine on the war field. But he was very kind and he was helping people all the time, and a miracle happens to him, an entity. Either God or the Devil comes to him and says, “Okay, you will live forever and you will do the good things. You will be making the Advent Calendar forever and the reason is, that God put him in an advent calendar. So he is eternal now. He is living in his calendar. And if you look at him, the mask is a gas mask of the German army of World War One. He is wearing a priest dress. He has boots of the German army. So all these things were designed before.

Other things were designed after. Because the actor, Fabien Jegoudez, playing that character, he was so kind. He was moving well, but he was so kind and you can see the kindness in the eyes of people. Sometimes I had to blur his eyes a little bit. That’s why you said, we don’t see his eyes. You can see his eyes sometimes, but not all the time. Because it was really, you can see his soul. He is really, really, really kind. We cannot fake that and so, I have to put some dark thing in his eyes when we were fitting for the movie. Because the truth is, actually maybe that entity is kind. He is kind to the main character, but he is not kind to other ones. But it was too obvious if we saw his eyes. She should have been dancing with him, with that devil, and that was not the point. So, we made something to make it a little bit darker.

To wrap things up, the ending can come across as open-ended. It leaves you guessing, but then you have the person that follows after her. What went into the decision to make things more open-ended?

Patrick Ridremont: I know that’s a frustration for people.

See, and I enjoy that kind of ending. Gives people stuff to dissect.

Patrick Ridremont: I wanted to show what happened and they said okay, let them choose. Well, the truth is that character is making, she won’t make a decision in five minutes. She would probably last all day, from midnight to the other midnight…actually, if you respect the rule, she has one day to eat that candy so, I have to stop the movie there. I don’t know what’s her decision. I know that for her to have to make a decision is a bad thing. She doesn’t want to go to the left or to the right. She’s paralytic. Go on the right. Go on the left, and it’s easier for her. She’s okay with those rules, but she’s not okay with that rule that there’s no more rule. Do what you want. Free will. She hates that. And something really interesting is that when you have a couple watching the movie, they are always certain, they know that she’s eating it. And the other one’s saying, no she’s throwing it. No, she’s eating. They have all other decisions? Other advice? I don’t know what’s the word. Solutions? I don’t know.

Alternatives?

Patrick Ridremont: Yeah. Alternatives, and even myself. I don’t know. I don’t know what she will do. Well probably if you ask one paralytic…I just asked the coach, what would she do? Fuck, I’d throw the candy. I throw the candy and my legs back. And, in my screenplay, everyone that has died, is not really that sympathetic. The first one to die is someone she wanted to die. I don’t know what it is translated to in English, but in French, she’s saying, “Die. Just die.” And he’s dead, and all the other ones are people, who aren’t that good. Yeah, the father is okay. She loves her friend, but in the movie, it’s complicated but we have all the…I don’t know myself.

There are shades of grey in all of that.

Patrick Ridremont: Yeah. Okay. I think she eats the candy. She swallows it. I think she’s pure enough to swallow it.

I haven’t decided what I think she did, but I love that ending. I love how it’s up for interpretation.


Patrick Ridremont’s THE ADVENT CALENDAR is now available for streaming on Shudder! To learn more about the film, check out Sarah’s review here!

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Sarah Musnicky
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