The Advent Calendar – Review
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.
We are 13 days into December. That means it is time for another entry into our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature. Today’s movie couldn’t be more aptly titled. We are taking a look at French horror The Advent Calendar (Le calendrier). Written and directed by Patrick Ridremont. The Advent Calendar is a slow, brooding, French Horror Thriller. It focuses on a woman receiving a gift of a malevolent Advent Calendar for her Birthday.
France has developed a really nice horror movie pedigree. The Advent Calendar aims to add to it. Naturally, this one doesn’t need any qualifying with regards to the Christmas theme. It does have to be said, however, that it isn’t the most apparent Christmas horror in the world. Yes, it takes place in December and features an advent calendar as the central plot device. But this is a bleak movie with depressing themes and not much in the way of Christmas cheer. If that sounds like something you will be into, read on. Let’s take a look.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
The Advent Calendar – Synopsis
The Advent Calendar follows the story of paraplegic former dancer Eva. Eva, played by Eugénie Derouand, was in a car crash with her friend Sophie. The car crash left her paralysed. Sophie, played by Honorine Magnier, survived seemingly unscathed. She has felt guilty ever since. Eva has adapted somewhat and manages to swim, work, and socialise. The constraints of her disability are ever present to her, however. Her boss guilts her for changes he had to make to his business so she could work there. Social interaction is difficult and romance seems to be something of a distant dream.
For her birthday, Sophie gives Eva an advent calendar. Looking incredibly old, the calendar features doors marked with dates. These doors will only unlock on midnight of said day. There are rules to the calendar. If you eat the first candy, you must eat them all. You must follow all of the rules until the last day and don’t throw the calendar away. If you break any of these rules, you will die.
Naturally Eva eats the first chocolate from the calendar. As per the rules, she must now eat all of them. One of the chocolates that comes out of the first few doors of the calendar is an After Eight mint. Apparently these were Eva’s dad’s favourite chocolate. He has been suffering from Alzheimer’s and has forgotten Eva. After eating the chocolate, Eva hears the phone ring. She answers it only to hear her dad wishing her a happy birthday. It becomes clear to Eva that the calendar can offer her the things she desires the most. The question is, at what cost?
Slow Burn Christmas Horror
The Advent Calendar is a clever, slow burning horror movie. Acting as something of a mystery, each door of the calendar reveals something new. Sometimes the contents are good and play to the fantasies of the main character. Other times they are bad. The calendar demands sacrifices, of sorts, in return for what it gives. Eva eats the first chocolate meaning she must continue until she reaches the last door. Every times she attempts to rid herself of the calendar. A fiendish demon like creature called Ich appears and changes her mind.
The Advent Calendar, for much of its runtime, is utterly fascinating. The movie presents events in a day by day format. This is an inspired move as it has you eagerly anticipating the next revelation. What will the calendar demand next? How will it reward Eva? It is compelling and completely engaging. It flows along at a rather nice pace, too. This is something of a compliment as this is not a short movie. I never found myself bored or losing concentration. I was eager to see what was coming next.
Ridremont does a nice job of mixing things up throughout the film. He establishes the story before throwing in moments of suspense. Creating a few effective scares before progressing the story further. It’s a nice balance between plot progression and atmosphere. With that being said, atmosphere is definitely not something The Advent Calendar lacks. It is dark and moody, letting up for only a few scenes here and there. Eva’s personal situation is already difficult. As time goes on it only becomes more complicated. She becomes more obsessed with the calendar with each passing day. Eventually becoming almost completely controlled by it.
The Advent Calendar Wants to Get in Your Head
As far as scares go, they take something of a back seat to the mood and atmosphere. The Advent Calendar wants the viewer to be thinking about Eva’s predicament. It wants you to understand the potentially corrupting nature of the calendar. It questions how far a person may go to get what they want. In this respect, as a study of the darkness of humans, it is unsettling. As a horror movie, however, it isn’t going to have you jumping out of your seat.
There are scenes here and there that may elicit a bit of fear from the viewer. Ich, the entity that haunts the calendar, appears on a number of occasions. His design reminds me of something out of the Silent Hill video game series. He looks somewhat imposing and rather creepy. While never being particularly threatening to Eva. It is clear he is incredibly dangerous and everyone else is fair game. I felt more could have been done with this character, to be honest. His appearances are a little lacking and he never quite reaches his scare potential. Still, that’s not what this movie about.
The depressing, almost oppressive, atmosphere is the main tool utilised here. Eva has clearly suffered significant trauma. It is to the point where she refuses to talk about her accident. The people around her either refuse to accommodate her or are ignorant to her needs. She feels neglected and unseen. Eva’s desperation to change her predicament leads her to drastic actions. As time goes on, she grows accustomed to taking what she wants. She will do whatever she needs to, however brutal. This creates a wonderful sense of tension and a feeling of “What is next?”.
Nicely Shot and an Amazing Prop
Cinematography is very nice. There are no shots wildly flitting about here. The camera is not afraid to linger on a subject. Focus is used effectively to highlight Eva’s points of interest. Lighting is, also, used creatively throughout. Darkness helps emphasise Eva’s feelings of hopelessness. The lack of light works to illustrate her descent into a bleaker mindset. Her home, for example, is rarely well lit. Clearly this is a place where she feels comfortable drowning in her sorrow. Scenery shots are minimal but always look very nice. This feels like more of an autumn film than a winter one. Still, the cold looking landscape feels apt for a Christmas horror.
There are some very interesting techniques used. Neon colours abound bleeding beautifully into the scenery, in parts. Shots tying one piece of time to another are note worthy for how well thought out they are. There are some fantastic depictions of characters floating through water that look magnificent. The director’s tendency to never push too far with particular scenes is worthy of praise, too. Things happen to Eva that would have lead other filmmakers to let loose. Where lesser directors would have filled the movie with time lapses and silliness. Ridremont manages to stay reserved. The film benefits greatly from this.
The actual Advent Calendar itself is stunning. They seriously could have released a version of this as a collectible. It would have definitely sold, much like the collectible Babadook pop up book did. It features elaborate designs. Pull out draws. Little models. A tiny key. This thing looks fantastic and is one of my favourite parts of the film. Part of the intrigue was seeing what the next door looked like.
Acting is excellent throughout. Carrying the entire film is Eugénie Derouand as Eva. She does a fantastic job throughout, perfectly portraying the struggles of the character. While I think the role could have gone to someone who was differently abled. I realise that the plot demanded an able bodied performer. She does a great job of presenting us with a paraplegic character in a way that is respectful. Whenever tasked with showing emotion she is excellent. I particularly enjoyed her performance later on in the movie as Eva begins to go through a few changes.
Supporting cast are all fine. Clément Olivieri does a good job as the kind hearted William. Honorine Magnier as friend Sophie is similarly decent. Jean-François Garreaud puts on a very sympathetic performance as Eva’s dad. It’s an all around great cast without a significantly weak performance.
A Few Negatives and Inconsistencies
The Advent Calendar does let itself down a little in a few departments. You are going to be seeing some things here and there that don’t make much sense at all. There are established rules regarding the advent calendar itself. It would appear these rules are broken almost straight away. Whether that is the case or not, I am not sure. I think something may be getting a bit lost in translation here. The calendar is German. The notes inside and the rules are all written in German. They are then being translated to French by Sophie and then into English via the medium of subtitles. It would seem this has lead to a little confusion.
For example, one rule states “you must eat all of the chocolates”. Moments later you will be watching as other people eat them. Seems a little strange. Surely that is a rule broken? I would imagine that, actually, the rule is simply that the chocolates must be eaten. I don’t think it matters who it is that eats them. Indeed, some appear to be intended to be fed to others. If I am right, then this is quite a common issue with non-English language films. Translators are not always perfect. It happens all the time with manga and anime. It’s very common with J-Horror as well. If, however, I am wrong, then this is a major plot hole.
A Little Messy
The film can feel a little messy here and there. The flow gets a little broken up and has to pick itself back up. The editing could have been a lot tighter in parts. It can feel like it lacks a little in cohesion. The ending was also a little bit of an issue for me. It is one of those films that ends with a question mark.
Some people are going to be fine with this. They get to make up their own mind. Maybe they enjoy ambiguity in their horror. Others are going to absolutely hate it. I watch a ton of horror. This feels like a rapidly growing trend. It’s hard to decide which movies are doing it deliberately. How can you tell the difference between those that simply couldn’t think of a decent way to end the story. I think, in this case, the ambiguity is very deliberate. It is going to leave many viewers feeling very unsatisfied. After committing nearly two hours to watching it the viewer deserves some resolution.
Despite some of these complaints, this is a fantastic movie that is absolutely worth a watch. It is creepy, atmospheric, and thoroughly compelling. Some of the issues are fairly noteworthy. I think it would likely stand up worse to a second watching. The engaging story and intriguing plot help it rise above some of these issues. The Advent Calendar is well worth opening a few doors on.
Is it a Knockout?
The Advent Calendar is a slow paced horror movie that wants to get in your head and make you think. Following the story of a paraplegic woman who receives an Advent Calendar as a gift. The calendar gives her what she desires but at what cost? Featuring excellent acting, decent cinematography, and a genuinelly compelling story. This is a hidden gem of a horror. It works on far more levels than just a Christmas horror movie.
Suffering from a few issues including a question mark ending and an occasional lack of cohesion. This movie isn't going to be for everyone. It is incredibly slow paced and has a very long runtime. It is not a particularly scary movie and wants to kill you with mood rather than jumps. If you are someone that enjoys slow paced horror and enjoys a movie that makes you think. The Advent Calendar is perfectly fitting and well worth a watch.