Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It’s a moment to reflect on one’s life for the past 12 months with the family and friends you cherish, and celebrate another year together. Patrick Ridremont’s new film, The Advent Calendar, however, delivers a deliciously macabre statement that rejects the Yuletide sentiments for horror and gore sensibilities wrapped lovingly in beautiful cinematography and terrible people. This French film gifts the audience with an Advent calendar of terror, each scene opening up to reveal heightening anxious dread, that will leave horror fans happy this holiday season.
Eva, played by the incredible Eugénie Derouand, is an ex-dancer who is now a paraplegic after a tragic car accident. When her best friend Sophie, played by Honorine Magnier, surprises her on her birthday with a gift of an old antique Advent calendar, Eva is given the opportunity to walk again if only she eats each candy that is in each door of the calendar each day and follows the Calendar’s three rules no matter what the cost. The film culminates in a fascinating, and often times gut-wrenching, monkey’s paw dilemma of how much one is willing to pay when it comes to getting something they want.
Ridremont rides the line of this question and the spectacle of horror in a sublime way. The Advent calendar itself is a stunning presence of both antique Christmas warmth and quiet discomfort to look at. The way each candy is represented and the wish, or curse, it provides is also expertly done both in the writing and its presentation. As the descent of madness begins to creep into Eva as each passing day goes by, the film’s cinematography fills the space poetically in supernatural beauty. For example, there is a moment where someone close to Eva is drowned while she herself is at a pool, the film uses this moment to merge both bodies of water to symbolize the death that she can see as both a literal and spiritual space at once. However, for all the beauty the film abounds in its imagery its the writing that is truly the horror.
The film is a standard plot following the question of how much are you willing to sacrifice for personal gratification. Several films have done this before, but Ridremont guides our attention on subverting the milieu of an Advent calendar’s function of providing a little something special each day to open as time marches closer to Christmas Day. Eva is shown in the film to be miserable now that she is paraplegic and unable to dance anymore. The world around her, much like Eva herself, can only see the wheelchair she is bound to.
The film provides so much for us to empathize with her situation and to follow her journey through each present she receives from the calendar. The moment the film caught me off guard and redirected me was the moment she receives a love potion and uses it on an unsuspecting person she had pined for from far away. The film does not allow you to forget that she is a selfish person and not just someone to feel pity for either. Ridremont asks us just like the advent calendar asks Eva, just how far are we willing to go?
Which is why I found the film frustrating when it came to those questions being answered in part by Eva’s actions. Outside of not-so-shocking deaths, the crucial choices in the film absolve Eva of any true guilt or blood on her hands. Characters either provide her an okay to let her kill them, if it means she walks again, or they die from a choice they make.
The understanding of how much they care for her and her walking again is fully on display, but the question of if she is willing to make that decision on her own terms is left up to your interpretation. It created a dissonance to where it felt like the film was dipping into a territory that showed that the true horror is being bound to a wheelchair and not dangers of ones ego and goals.
The Advent Calendar isn’t an instant classic or even a perfect movie. It has flaws that leaves the ending to be desired but it provides just enough good filmmaking that I could recommend this for people who really enjoy horror or Christmas themed horror movies. It’s a film that does its best in the genre it’s in, and what’s a better Christmas present than that?