Review: ‘The Advent Calendar’ Is a Festive Feast For The Senses
Despite their seemingly rising popularity it’s rare a holiday film comes along that has a narrative strong enough to overshadow the holiday it’s set during, as typically these movies are pretty closely themed around the holiday itself with the rest of the plot being built outwards from there. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Patrick Ridremont’s recently released, holiday centered psychological horror film The Advent Calendar which dives quite unexpectedly into some very deep moral territory. After a Charles Baudelaire quote regarding humankind’s “digestion” of happiness and a found footage style clip open the film, viewers are introduced to the protagonist – an ex-dancer named Eva (Eugénie Derouand, Paris Police 1900) who after suffering an accident that paralyzed her from the waist down is forced to live in a wheelchair – as she swims laps around the local pool while awkwardly interacting with a very interested young man. Soon after Eva makes it home that evening she tries to call her dad, who the viewer learns is suffering from severe Alzheimer’s and is also in a wheelchair when Eva’s cruel stepmother Agnès (Isabelle Tanakil, Stillwater) answers the phone. They exchange bitter words regarding his poor health before Agnès makes a snide comment about Eva’s father not remembering her and Eva angrily hangs up the phone.
Almost immediately after doing so, her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier, Tomorrow is Ours) shows up from Munich for a surprise visit to celebrate Eva’s birthday with her and naturally comes bearing a gift: a hand crafted, antique wooden advent calendar that’s quite ominous aesthetically with the words “dump it and Ich will kill you” etched across the back exterior. Sophie then translates the rules for Eva: once you’ve consumed the first of the candies your soul becomes attached to the calendar so you have to eat all of them or suffer the wrath of Ich (a primordial supernatural entity able to manifest itself in a myriad of ways), a challenge which Eva hastily accepts as she pops the first candy into her mouth. It’s not until after blowing out the birthday candles at midnight and the advent calendar beginning to recite “it’s midnight, open the door” aloud that Eva’s fright begins to set in. After being startled by a pop-up carving of Ich upon investigating the voice coming from the calendar, she opens the fourth door to reveal another candy accompanied by a written clue and it’s during Sophie’s translation of this text that one of the film’s primary themes begins to surface: ableism. Sophie reads aloud “and Jesus said to the cripple, arise and walk” which obviously makes Eva uncomfortable and Sophie feel guilty, so they promptly call it a night.
It becomes quite clear after a series of wildly differing supernatural occurrences that Ich is simultaneously empowering and entrapping Eva with his deceptive ways, forcing her to choose between the use of her legs and the well-being of those around her. There are multiple cleverly crafted side plots involving all the different aspects of Eva’s life including her uneventful social life, an abusive work environment, predatory males, troubling visions that are scarily real, and even a questionably acquired love interest that all tie into the overarching narrative very seamlessly. Despite so much going on narratively it doesn’t feel as if the filmmakers failed to explore any avenue of the story, there’s a bow put on almost everything that happens quite nicely and the film conveniently provides the viewer a lot of relevant backstory along the way due to the clever plot structure. Overall The Advent Calendar is a well constructed film with a very precise vision from a director that knows how to convey the central idea while keeping the tension and engagement level at a maximum. Rounded out by great performances from all involved, an eerie holiday themed score, skillful cinematography with exceptional color grading, and some incredibly sharp special effects: this is sure to be a surprise favorite for fans of morality driven psychological horror. If you think you’re ready to twist that rusty key and open the door yourself, The Advent Calendar is available to stream now on AMC+ and Shudder.