Written and directed by Patrick Ridremont, The advent calendar offers an intriguing spin on holiday horror through the use of its titular plot device. For those unaware, an Advent calendar is a calendar used to track the days leading up to Christmas. The calendar contains doors that people can open each consecutive day, the inside of each offering a small treat (in my case, growing up, there was chocolate behind each door). But for Eva (Eugenie Derouand), its Advent Calendar contains some additional surprises.
As a paraplegic ex-dancer, Eva spends her days working in shitty insurance where she is ridiculed by her boss, swimming and sitting around the house with her dog. Struggling with a lack of self-confidence, things are far from easy for Eva. But when her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) comes for her birthday and gives her an old Advent calendar from Germany, Eva’s life changes dramatically.
As an object, the calendar itself is fascinating to watch; it is made of wood, designed with intriguing shapes and decorated with eerie art. As for the most supernatural side of the calendar, this is by far the strongest appeal of the Advent calendar. After receiving the calendar, Eva and Sophie read a message on the back of it which roughly translates to “Throw it away and I’ll kill you”. When Eva opens the first calendar door, the moment shifts to that of a mysterious and strange figure; the scene then cuts back to Eva, who pulls out a piece of chocolate and eats it. As the second door opens, the moment returns to the figure, its monstrous humanoid form arousing intrigue and unease.
Without ever saying too much, the film’s narrative direction does an outstanding job of keeping audiences in the dark about the mysteries of the timeline. Up front, Eva and the audience learn that there are rules to the calendar; Rule 1, for example, says there are candies inside and once a piece is eaten, all pieces must be eaten. However, as the events of Eva’s life erupt in magical (and sometimes gruesome) ways, she begins to learn that the calendar items represent something bigger than she could ever imagine. As she continues to unlock every door, she must decide how far she’s willing to go for a holiday miracle – even if it means sacrificing loved ones.
The premise of a haunted Advent calendar is an interesting idea – the film does a great job delivering the supernatural consequences of Eva’s actions as she experiments with the calendar and becomes increasingly obsessed with it. Yet, as much as Eva is a compelling character at times, she’s also the film’s weakness (specifically, her role in the plot and the means to advance it).
At first, when Eva begins to relate the timeline to real-life events, one can assume the film will take the stereotypical approach of “The character makes a major discovery, the character will now try to learn the secrets behind the discovery.” The advent calendar doesn’t, which is fine – but instead, its plot meanders. The life and major events that occur around Eva are just unfolding; Other than her willingness to chase the elements behind every door on the timeline, most of the film is that she’s just experiencing what’s going on. Minus one scene later where she is going to meet someone, Eva primarily exists as a character waiting to do what is necessary of her next.
This stagnation also hurts the emotional delivery of several scenes. When Eva learns what the calendar has to offer her, she chooses to go all out for the final reward (so to speak). But rather than enduring a kind of tug-of-war mentality of having to make brutal, life-altering decisions, his reactions and thought process are almost down-to-earth. When it comes to a particular decision involving a loved one, it’s almost surprising how relatively calm she is. besides a few minor hesitations, she goes for it, and it feels like the emotional tension the film is trying to convey is tasteless. Hell, there’s a scene where she witnesses something sad, gets very upset about it, but gets over it way too quickly. The film takes little time for Eva to sit with these heavy moments and feel them, deciding to move on after something happens so she can get to the next gate on the timeline.
The counter-argument to this problem could be that she’s super driven to reap the benefits of the calendar, so nothing will get in her way. Except the movie adds a weird twist towards the end that completely uproots almost everything Eva has done before. It’s a realization that undoes much of any meaningful action she’s done – and all Eva does is go with the flow. This speaks to the larger issue regarding disordered emotional delivery. The advent calendar struggle with; when it comes to the major story beats where Eva has to act, it’s like she’s said shit and caved in to this supernatural power. We don’t see much remorse from her, and really, we don’t see as much joy in her when good things happen. At the heart of Eva’s experience is a very cold obsession.
The advent calendar stumbles a lot when it comes to anything outside of its neat premise. Where the film succeeds in providing a surge of tension and suspense through its bloodiest moments and use of the supernatural, its protagonist and motivation struggle to convey any experience of substance. A lot of it is for the film to tell us that this is the emotion the audience should feel, this feeling that seems weak to most. The advent calendar is unfortunately a movie that’s quite a great premise with some cool moments, but has little to offer in the way of satisfying drama or depth.
The Advent Calendar is now streaming on Shudder.