The advent calendar is one of the best known holiday traditions, so what better way to announce that The Christmas Horror Season has arrived with The Advent Calendar (Le Calendrier)? After the way this year has gone we can all use a holiday treat. Is that what we get, or is it another of the many lumps of coal 2021 has given us?
Eva (Eugénie Derouand, Paris Police 1900) was a dancer, but for the past three years has been confined to a wheelchair, the result of a car accident. On December 3rd she gets an unexpected surprise, her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier, Research Unit) comes back from Germany with a present for her, champaign and an ornate antique Advent Calendar from the Munich Christmas Market.
The calendar comes with some rules. If you eat one candy you have to eat them all or Ich will kill you. If you don’t respect all of the rules Ich will kill you. If you dump the calendar, you guessed it, Ich will kill you. Eva eats the candy anyway, if she saw what we did, Ich waking up and grinning in anticipation, she might have second thoughts.
Writer/director Patrick Ridremont (Dead Man Talking) takes this premise and turns it into an interesting variation on The Monkey’s Paw or the various tales of the Djinn such as Wishmaster or more recently, The Djinn. Each day’s gift seems to bring her good fortune, at the cost of something bad, often fatally so, occurring. At first to those who have wronged her but then spreading to anyone around her. Should she risk the wrath of Ich and stop opening the doors? Or should she keep going since she’s convinced the final gift will give her back the use of her legs?
The progression is slow, making it easy for Eva and the viewer to go along with what’s happening. Behind one of the advent calendar’s first doors is her father’s favorite candy, after she eats it his dementia clears up enough for him to call her, on a disconnected landline no less. A toy car behind another door is mauled by her dog, leading to the death of Boris (Cyril Garnier, Sol) who had tried to rape her while driving her home. But as the victims become those closer to her it becomes a nightmare before Christmas, and she faces some hard choices. If Ich gives her a choice that is.
The Advent Calendar mixes some horrible deaths with quiet chills, such as Eva’s visit to her father’s house to give him a second After Eight mint from the calendar. Both her encounter with her literally evil stepmother and what her father says while under the candy’s effects are disturbing. The script has a human element missing from many genre films and is so much more effective for it. The viewer ends up feeling for Eva as she tries to fight off Ich’s power and find a way to end the advent calendar’s reign of terror before it claims everyone she’s ever cared for.
The film’s last half hour features both The Advent Calendar’s nastiest death and its most heartbreaking moment. The film’s final scene is a bit of a letdown however as it leaves a very important question deliberately unanswered. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is annoying ending to film that wasn’t, up until then, afraid to take risks.
I can see The Advent Calendar becoming part of many horror fan’s yearly viewing habits, right along with René Manzor’s Deadly Games aka Dial Code Santa Claus. I can also see it being given yearly sequels, with the calendar and Ich becoming a seasonal version of The Lament Configuration and Pinhead. But it would take a lot of effort to avoid such a franchise going the way of the Hellraiser films. Maybe it’s better to leave this at one and done.
The Advent Calendar will premiere on Shudder, Tuesday, December 2nd.