Patrick Ridremont’s The Advent Calendar kickstarts the Christmas horror season by demonizing an otherwise innocent holiday tradition. That’s when festive frights are at their best, after all. Gingerbread men become ninja assassins, or a wooden box filled with 24 treats—one per pre-Christmas December day—summons a connected evil. Spoken in French, as influenced by German lore, The Advent Calendar releases a Silent Hill-inspired genie that’ll grant your wishes through magic chocolates with sacrifices aplenty. Ridremont succeeds in crunching bones and raising hell, all with a seasonal waft of cloves and corpses from behind a wishgiver’s crooked smile. It’s chilling, teeters between moral stances and is a hellish-jolly greeting that should please horror fans in the mood for merriness gone malevolent.
Eugénie Derouand stars as Eva, a paraplegic ex-dancer who’s gifted an antique advent calendar for her birthday. Sophie (Honorine Magnier) thinks nothing odd about the contraption etched with German warnings, translating roughly to, “Dump me, and I’ll kill you.” Eva opens the first night’s locked door and grabs, then eats, her ailing father’s favorite candy treat. Soon after, the elder who previously couldn’t string together a sentence calls his daughter—a miracle. Eva agrees to the box’s issued instructions about eating the chocolates until each is gone and accepting whatever fates unfold, lest she is haunted by the demon cuckoo that pops out at midnight to signify feeding time. At the end, Eva could reverse her paralysis should the calendar’s terms be upheld—all it’ll cost is offerings of flesh, soul and blood.
Ridremont’s advent calendar mythos formulates intrigue both physically and expressively. The handcrafted miniature cabinet with neatly painted shutters and an associated snarling entity are a bastardization of the very countdown prizes for children that even Funko now offers. Each wrapped chocolate comes with a price; every bite is a metaphor as Eva essentially devours those she adores or hates. It’s a standard narrative about chasing personal gratification no matter the tradeoff, as a sinister voice beckons Eva each midnight for another nibble with unknown powers. On Eva munches, as Ridremont intercuts an alternate lavender realm where a wrinkly claws-and-mask monster oversees as an upholder of vile rituals.
Derouand holds our attention as Eva dreams of one day pirouetting with grace again, or pursuing newfound loves with potion effects, or whatever adventure the next morsel brings. Eva’s medical condition chases away suitors and strains parental relationships—motivation for an otherwise dangerous quest with mounting casualties. Ridremont’s screenplay introduces Eva to sleazoid sexist bosses, rapist clubgoers and other targets the box can kill in fantastical or primitively brutal ways as a means of cleaning her conscience. There’s an empathetic undercurrent to Eva’s continual thrust forward as bodies collect, because what’s the harm in a few dead dirtbags? It’s nothing unique, but what makes The Advent Calendar more appealing is its methods of madness and the cursed calendar itself.
Horror exists in the unknowns every time Eva consumes another candied clock, white chocolate woman or red-colored heart. Ridremont’s international sensibilities allow for more aggressive repugnance than American audiences may expect—a triggering sexual assault, unfortunate animal fatalities—which lead to equally graphic demises (without showing everything). The Advent Calendar is lower-budget in that kill sequences aren’t always as nasty as other malicious acts, yet it still presents imaginatively macabre moments and a formidable costumed entity as the box’s protector. A dog chews into toy car plastic while an automobile somewhere crushes its driver, or a naked dolly is bent like a voodoo figure that contorts and snaps its human tether. There’s no shying away from an avalanche of bleakness, which tends to work towards Ridremont’s ultimate goal: Allowing Eva the believability of keeping her working legs at the cost of every lost life, or eating December 24th’s nugget that would reset the lonesome existence she once suffered.
The Advent Calendar isn’t perfect, as scenes sometimes smash together disjointedly—one massacre right into another, wonky timelines—and yet it’s a deliciously damned Christmas selection. Ridremont turns dysfunction, tragedy and sorrow into a fable with lessons vastly more mature than typical December bedtime tales about Santa Claus. Creature interactions overshadow some of the more everyday slights against Eva from greasy-haired superiors, which sustain the ominous presence that preys upon those most vulnerable. It’s momentarily spooky, sometimes contemplative, and majorly twisted, sneaking in at least one more worthwhile thriller before the year closes—even if its ideas can be better than its executions.
Director: Patrick Ridremont
Writer: Patrick Ridremont
Starring: Eugénie Derouand, Honorine Magnier
Release Date: December 2, 2021 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread to the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.