‘Tis the season for giving, but what happens when you get more than you asked for? Written and directed by Patrick Ridremont, The Advent Calendar takes a sacred Christmas holiday tradition and gives it a murderous twist in a fun, albeit predictable, and sometimes slow horror movie. Full of morbid yet festive mythos that any fans of Krampus will likely latch onto, the monster movie centres around a cursed German advent calendar, whose tiny doors all bear extraordinary gifts but demand bloody sacrifices in exchange.
The premise of The Advent Calendar is simple and is clearly laid out within the first ten minutes of the film, letting us dive straight into the supernatural action from the get-go. The film tells the story of Eva (Eugénie Derouand), an ex-dancer who has been paraplegic for three years. In the film’s first act, we see her struggle in her daily life, having to face discrimination at her workplace, cope with her father’s Alzheimer’s, and navigate society’s constant prejudice for simply existing in a wheelchair. However, just when it seems like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Eva’s luck changes (well, kind of) on the night of her birthday.
Eva receives a mysterious German antique advent calendar from her carefree friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) as a present. But she soon finds out that there is a lot more than just chocolate behind this calendar’s little numbered doors. Every day during the countdown to December 24, Eva realises that a wish of hers is granted once she eats the candy of the calendar. But as she continues to get what she wants, she encounters gruesome scenes, and notices that people are dropping like flies around her. The advent calendar turns out to be more cursed than a blessing, harbouring some sort of demonic monster- who is adamant that Eva opens every door and participates in the bloody countdown to Christmas eve.
The concept of The Advent Calendar is clean and concise. It plays along the lines of the ‘monkey paw’ concept that we’ve seen in the genre time and time again. Wishes and gifts have consequences, and horror is infused with another plotline revolving around the main character’s morality as they battle against their internal greed. That being said, the ‘clean’ concept of The Advent Calendar doesn’t prevent its script from getting repetitive at points, especially as the film goes through the individual days of December and the wishes start to resemble each other.
While the film is a fun watch, its second act is slow-paced, and the kills start to meld together. The monster in the calendar continues to kill the people around Eva in exchange for each wooden door opened, and this dynamic is never broken or changed – making the film’s story predictable and just not that scary. In this way, it feels like The Advent Calendar does too much and too little at the same time. Only one death out of the several shown in the film feels monumental or contributes to the overall progression of Eva’s story.
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It should also be noted that with each kill, we get a better look at the monster, which looks less impressive each time it appears on the screen. Its gruesome lipless face remains striking; however, its body with carved out numbers and random third-degree burns just isn’t intimidating under fluorescent lighting. It is a pity that the scares weren’t pushed further in The Advent Calendar, as the movie had the potential to craft genuine unease. There is some top tier body horror in this thriller movie, and Derouand is absolutely fantastic in her portrayal of a burdened horror protagonist.
Although the film doesn’t give us everything we need for a good old Christmas fright, you have to admire Derouand’s performance, as well as the aesthetic seen in The Advent Calendar. The advent calendar itself that we see in the movie screams old-timey Christmas market, with its wooden structure looking almost like a deadly Brothers Grimm storybook contraption. Similarly, the gloomy atmosphere from the greyish city setting in the film’s cinematography perfectly sets up the mood for an ominous supernatural tragedy. It’s a shame that the movie’s pacing and editing decisions get in its own way.
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That being said, holiday horror isn’t easy to come by, and The Advent Calendar may feel slow in places but will never leave you feeling bored. Full of dark, and some delightfully ridiculous kills (just you wait for that dog and Range Rover scene), here is a Christmas treat that you won’t regret at least trying.