The Advent Calendar IMDB description: “Eva is a paraplegic. On her birthday, her friend Sophie gives her a strange advent calendar. It’s not the traditional treats you find when you open each drawer, but quirky gifts that are scary and get bloodier.”
Why I took it off the list: The holiday season is upon us, and the urge to curl up by the fire with wintery music and movies becomes stronger as the nights get colder and darker. As with my taste in films in general, my preference towards Christmas-time viewing tends towards the horror-tinged (I love rewatching the old BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas and things like The Others around the festive season).
As with Halloween Kills, The Advent Calendar is not exactly a One that Got Away, as it was only released earlier this month and enough time hasn’t really passed for it to be considered overlooked or underrated. However, it had been delayed a year due to COVID, so I guess it did kind of get away from everyone for a while, and I was curious about this new addition to the ‘Yuletide slasher’ subgenre.
Not many. Christmas-themed horror movies can be a bit hit-and-miss but there are definitely some excellent examples of this genre out there (Gremlins, Krampus, Sint). I didn’t know much about this new addition apart from that it was a French production and saw that it had some decent reviews.
Being a fan of modern French horror films in general, and feeling in the mood for some spooky yuletide fare, I decided to give it a go.
Review of The Advent Calendar
The Advent Calendar has a great premise: a mysterious antique advent calendar that seems to promise to make your deepest desires come true…at a cost! While not a unique concept in itself (it is very Monkey’s Paw at its core), the fact that it uses a seemingly innocuous Christmas decoration as the source for its terror leads to some pleasingly off-kilter results.
And really, what is more perfect for a cursed object narrative than an advent calendar, with its endless amount of locked doors that could be hiding any number of surprises? (Though in real life, most people would take one look at this obviously haunted antique and immediately kick it to the curb, or so I would hope…).
For most of its runtime, The Advent Calendar makes the most of its concept and carves out its own unique, nifty little groove in the genre, even though large parts of the film are clearly heavily indebted to other similar horror narratives like The Ring, Drag Me to Hell, and even Hellraiser.
Saying that though, the film also has another unique selling point with the fact that the protagonist is a paraplegic woman still harboring a lot of resentment over her condition, who sees the mysterious calendar as a way to maybe better her lot in life and even get her legs back. The fact that actress Eugénie Derouand also sells Eva as a sympathetic figure that’s easy to root for despite her frosty exterior also greatly helps the film.
Strong Build Up Let Down by a Weaker Second Half
The first 45 minutes of The Advent Calendar seriously impressed me: it lays out its central conceit well and expertly, slowly builds up the tension. The entire film is also pretty well structured (as would be expected given the built-in countdown of its concept) and some of the grisly setpieces that the calendar puts into action are inventive and even quite fun (particularly a dog-induced car crash scene).
Where the film started to disappoint me is the moment it decides to shove the previously mysterious monster/demon behind the calendar’s shenanigans out into the open. The outlandish design comes across as particularly goofy considering the relatively restrained build-up that that came before. In my opinion, the director should have taken a couple of leaves out of horror films that sparingly use their monster and largely kept it offscreen.
The mechanics of the supernatural goings-on also become quite convoluted towards the end of the film, and I felt like could have been presented in a less confusing way. It would also have been nice to learn a little bit more about the origins of the thing: apart from one small detour towards the end of the film, we don’t really get any insights into its past or where it came from.
Despite these quibbles, through, The Advent Calendar is a fun ride for the most part, and, if you’re willing to buy into its premise and go along with its wilder developments, it’s a perfectly decent way to spend a chilly evening as you count down to Christmas.
Final score: 7/10
Worth Checking Out?
Yes. Despite its underwhelming monster, some confusing internal logic and a descent into silliness later on, The Advent Calendar is an engaging and inventive thrill ride for most of its runtime.
Le calendrier (2021)
Written and Directed by Patrick Ridremont
Stay tuned for my next article, a review of classic ghost stories for Christmas, coming soon!