“Dump it and I’ll kill you.” That’s what paraplegic former professional dancer, Eva, finds written on the back of the titular ‘Advent Calendar’ that she receives in early December as a birthday gift. This is just the first rule outlined by the mysterious box of treats and trinkets. She must also open a new small door day every day and if she consumes the first treat, she must eat the rest of them. If she stops early, she will be killed. As one comes to expect in these types of stories, she does not take these stipulations seriously…until it’s too late.
Eva, played by Eugénie Derouand, has a terrible job, with a terrible boss. She struggles with PTSD from the accident that left her without the use of her legs and her favorite person, her father, has forgotten her altogether due to advanced Alzheimer’s. It’s easy to see why she would overlook the mounting costs as the calendar begins to grant her increasingly valuable wishes and a taste of the life she could have. From money to romance to a brief lucid conversation with her dad she is quickly realizing how good life could be, even as the sacrifices the calendar demands are becoming more dangerous and painful. The promise of being able to walk, and even dance, again are too tempting for her to stop going down this path of twisted wish fulfillment.
Although the film is French the advent calendar itself is German. I would expect nothing less than a torturous advent calendar from the people who thought up Krampus honestly. I love this premise and a lot of this movie really works. The stakes feel real, the bloodshed hits its marks, and the ghoulish mastermind creature, Ich, is very scary (even if his initial reveal suffers from some disappointing CGI work)! Derouand is very good as Eva, a woman coming to terms with the life ahead of her that is very much not what she had planned. Ich tells her “To cure what hurts you, destroy what hurt you” and the journey for the audience to find out exactly what it is that will be destroyed is interesting, tense, and heartbreaking.
It is difficult to fit 25 days of pain and suffering into one film, and this one does go a little long and lags in places. There are some tricks used to speed a few days along, but not quite enough to keep the film moving at a good clip. Writer/director Patrick Ridremont seems to realize the story is going long towards the end and races to a finish. This would be fine except that Eva somehow discovers a twist in how the calendar works but it isn’t clear exactly how she comes up with it. It feels like a scramble at the last minute that leaves the viewer behind in confusion. Speaking of confusion, this film breaks it’s own rules several times without giving us any real explanation for why Eva can give some of the calendar’s dangerous treats to other people while some must be consumed herself.
For me the biggest misstep in this film is the relative lack of holiday vibe. Outside of ‘The Advent Calendar’ itself there is almost no indication that it is Christmas time. Good holiday horror takes what is magical about the season and makes it terrifying and there are so many missed opportunities here. I would be interested in seeing what Ridremont comes up with in the future as there are a lot of really great ideas here that just needed some editing. I doubt I will add this to my regular holiday rotation, but it did keep me interested enough to consider it worth a watch.
‘The Advent Calendar’ streams exclusively on Shudder December 2nd, 2021.
REVIEW: ‘The Advent Calendar’ Has Good Ideas But Lacks Holiday Magic