The Advent Calendar Is the Anti-hallmark Christmas Film

Has it started for you yet? The decorations? The event planning? The constant struggle to find just the right gift for those on your shopping list? Maybe the “par-um-pa-pa-pums” haven’t ingrained themselves into your subconscious just yet, or you haven’t heard Mariah Carey belt out her holiday anthem enough times yet, but, unfortunately, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And if you aren’t already worn out from the endless Black Friday sales from this past week and a half, you soon will be. But don’t worry too much because Shudder’s got your back this weekend with the perfect anti-Hallmark Christmas movie for the black-hearted soul, The Advent Calendar (Le Calendrier).

The Advent Calendar is unlike any holiday film you’ve ever seen. Those Christmas classic themes of giving instead of taking aren’t present here and enjoyably so as the altruism lies buried six feet underground. The subtle majesty isn’t lost on anyone, as Christmas has become more about consumerism and personal want than anything Linus tells us in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Eva (Eugénie Derouand) is a dancer who is still coming to grips with spending her days left bound to a wheelchair. The initial introductory window into Eva’s life provides a bleak and depressing view into the life of someone who has had to accept the fact that their dreams will never come to fruition. An encounter with a man at the pool leaves Eva apprehensive as her pursuer slowly realizes Eva’s limitations. The insurance company where she works is slowly pushing her out, and although it’s her birthday, her imperious stepmother (Isabelle Tanakil) won’t even press the telephone receiver to her sick father’s ear for even a moment. 

Eva looks up as Sophie reads The Advent Calendar's third rule: "Dump it and I'll kill you."

Eugénie Derouand plays Eva with a very complex rhythm. At first, it’s easy to see the bitterness and general resentment she has towards her hopeless situation. As the film continues, the character is consumed by the prospect of recovering what she lost, though never in a hopeful sense. The nuance is both magnetizing and polarizing. At times, you root for Eva. At other times you find her unconscionable. The performance, however, is absolutely remarkable. 

With all birthday expectations discarded, Eva’s best friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) shows up to save Eva from an otherwise horrible day. Traveling from Germany to see her friend, Sophie comes bearing gifts of champagne and pastries as well as a beautiful hand-carved Bavarian advent calendar. Though beautiful to look at, the calendar comes with a warning inscribed on the back stating, “Schmeisst du es weg Töte ich dich!” or “Dump it and I’ll kill you!”  

Like Fight Club, The Advent Calendar has strict rules for Eva to abide by. The first rule: If you start eating the candies, you have to eat all of the candies, or “Ich” will kill you. Rule number two: Respect all the rules until you open the last door, or “Ich” will kill you. And the final rule is the one inscribed on the back: Throw the advent calendar away, and “Ich” will kill you. While inspecting the loose contents of the calendar, Eva also finds a card with a black angel being touched by God on it, with the words “To cure hurt, destroy what hurt you” written on it. Pretty ominous for holiday treats.  

Ich drags William (Clément Olivieri) into the river in The Advent Calendar

Ich, German for I, becomes the film’s outward monster. Ich is a rather frightening-looking creature that I felt most closely resembled the monster in Demián Rugna’s fantastic film Terrified (Aterrados). However, the monster in The Advent Calendar is a bit of a representation of the cursed object’s owner. Ich does kill, but usually, it’s when Eva refuses to play by the rules.  

Every day at midnight, Ich informs Eva it’s time to get her surprise, bellowing, “Es ist Mitternacht,” until she obeys his request. Sometimes it’s a candy helping her walk again. Other times, Ich demands a sacrifice. Here we find the heart of The Advent Calendar, and the ensuing one hundred minutes takes us on a roller coaster through the deadly sins. Themes of despair, lust, greed, wrath, and pride coincide with the gluttonous gifts the calendar provides Eva, literally sacrificing everything, and anyone, for the opportunity to use her legs again. I guess, in a way, you could say it’s slightly Christmassy. However, the bodies Eva quickly amasses are hardly akin to Sesame Street’s Ernie giving up his rubber duckie to gift Bert a cigar box for his paperclip collection or vice versa to provide a soap dish for Ernie’s rubber duckie.   

I have a soft spot for Holiday-inspired horror films, and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from writer/director Patrick Ridremont’s sophomore feature-length effort behind the camera. To put it bluntly, when the film started from December third and had to keep up the pace through Christmas Eve, I was wondering why the film wasn’t substantially longer. How were Ridremont and the cast going to keep a rising tension over twenty-one days of dread-inducing horror? Well, he actually does it with incredible efficiency while maintaining a foreboding tone that gets increasingly dismal with every passing day. Similar to wintertime in New England, honestly. 

Ich is seen giving candy to Eva through a broken door where a bloodied body lay on the floor in The Advent Calendar

Once Eva starts putting together what The Advent Calendar is doing, especially when she begins to regain feeling in her legs, it becomes an obsession for her. Eva starts getting used to the idea of the sacrifices when initial acts of chaos affect ancillary characters on the outskirts of the characters’ empathic periphery, granting her wealth and the affection of her crush (Clément Olivieri) in the process. As the story continues, she’s forced to make more challenging choices concerning the people she’s closest to. Having eaten the candy, it’s either all or nothing as Christmas Eve quickly approaches. 

The Advent Calendar isn’t very scary, though it has its moments of uneasiness. The film’s pace, effects, and fantastic camera work make it an exceptionally well-told take on the W.W. Jacobs story The Monkey’s Paw, which will turn one hundred and twenty next year. In other words, The Advent Calendar isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, highlighting the “be careful what you wish for” theme we’ve seen in shows like Creepshow to films like Coraline. However, I’d argue that in Eva’s case, hubris makes the film worth a watch. In fact, it’s the way that The Advent Calendar approaches the story that makes it a more enjoyable watch, though there is a trigger warning to pet lovers. Adding the deadly sins into the mix of a tried-and-true story type gives the film a better hook than a lot of the others we’ve seen before. The ending, which contains a bit of an eye-rolling “gotcha” moment, is left ambiguous enough to either provide the moral cautionary tale you’re seeking or satire the entire holiday genre. So, which would you choose, spend time with friends and family this holiday season, or take a miracle for yourself at the low-low cost of their lives? 

The Advent Calendar (Le Calendrier) is available to stream on Shudder beginning December 2. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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