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REVIEW: THE ADVENT CALENDAR turns a holiday tradition into an object of terror

Boughs of jolly are not immune to possessions and old curses.

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Poster for The Advent Calendar

Advent calendars have been around for a long time, at least from the mid-19th century on when Germans marked doors with chalk and lighted candles to mark the beginning of the 4-week Advent period. It’s tradition, plain and simple. Some were paper-based, others were elaborate creations with doors containing chocolates, bible verses, or other small gifts for each calendar day. Essentially, a prime candidate for horror. Something that’s just itching for an injection of pure evil.

Patrick Ridremont’s The Advent Calendar, streaming exclusively on Shudder starting December 2nd, saw the potential in that idea and crafted a devilishly smart horror film about the dangers of getting what you wish for even if you deserve those wishes to come true. A tried and true formula, sure, but one that’s executed well, with more than its fair share of haunting images to go with it along the way.

The Advent Calendar follows Eva (played by Eugénie Derouand), an ex-dancer that lives in a wheelchair after getting paralyzed from the waist down after a tragic accident. Her best friend Sophie (played by Honorine Magnier) sticks by her and, after coming back from her trip to Germany, gifts her a large and intricate wooden advent calendar. It has tiny doors, a large frame, and a voiced figure that pops out the top of the calendar to announce another door has been unlocked.

The Advent Calendar

At first, the doors only offer chocolates. After a few of them have been opened, though, the calendar shows it has an agenda of its own and starts granting wishes. Eva’s desires start becoming a reality, but the stakes keep getting higher, and bloodier. It’s a kind of take on the classic Monkey’s Paw tale (or Richard Matheson‘s Button, Button), in which one’s wishes come true only at the expense of something or someone else getting the exact opposite in return. That’s where pain and suffering come in.

Ridremont, who scripted and directed the movie, lends a dark fairytale sensibility to the story, owning more to filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro than other more traditional horror storytellers. The calendar looks like an object ripped from an old and obscure kid’s picture book, the kind that one reads at a very young age and makes an appearance in life-defining nightmares. The voice that accompanies the little figure that pops out to announce the next day of Advent is downright unsettling, but also very effective at building up the evil living inside the object.

Eugénie Derouand’s performance as Eva is what ultimately makes the movie come together. Her willingness to keep with the calendar and explore its many mysteries and contours is brought out beautifully by the actress, in an empathetic way that doesn’t necessarily exploit her condition. Instead, it makes her current state of living relatable, so viewers can insert themselves into the situation and question whether their desires truly justify the untimely fate of someone else’s happiness.

This isn’t to say the character’s experience with the wheelchair is merely happenstance. On the contrary, there’s extra care afforded to her identity as a person that depends on a wheelchair. It’s just not overbearing. It was refreshing to not see another character be consumed by her physical frustrations exclusively. Derouand approaches Eva as a character that both struggles with the hand that’s been dealt her while also being strong and adaptable. It’s a noble approach that works.

The Advent Calendar

While the very concept surrounding the film clearly makes it a holiday horror movie, I was surprised by how economical it is with the Christmas imagery. It’s not all hanging mistletoes and lighted pine trees galore. They’re there, but there’s also a focus on dark colors and muted lighting in parts to capture the strangeness of the calendar’s presence. Ridremont knows how to set the mood and the tone for the type of horror story he wants and his creative team seemed to have a firm grasp of the vision driving the movie.

The Advent Calendar has arrived just in time for the season it mines a lot of its horror from. Some of the ideas at its core are easily recognizable, but the magic is in their execution. Dark magic, at that. So, if you wish for a good Christmas horror movie and The Advent Calendar is what pops up on your cue, then it might stand as confirmation your streaming device is not out to put a curse on you. Wish all you want with this one.

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