The Advent Calendar Review: Season’s Bleedings
The wish fulfillment trope is not a new one. These kinds of stories, whether written or filmed, usually involve the danger of a Faustian bargain mixed with the uncertain results of “The Monkey’s Paw.” The end result, of course, is a cautionary tale whose caution is to be careful what you wish for. Otherwise, you just might get it. In this review of The Advent Calendar, a Shudder Original, we’ll talk about someone who does.
Despite the Title and Release Date, A Surprising Lack of Yule
image via Shudder
An Advent calendar is, of course, a device by which to count down the days until Christmas. The practice of marking the Advent began in the 19th century. By the 20th century, the first printed Advent calendars appeared. Then Gerhard Lang basically invented the modern Advent calendar, complete with doors and chocolate.
That was in Germany, though, and things stalled when they had this whole little war. Wow, it was two wars? After that minor speed bump, with what the Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum calls the “NS Regime,” the Advent calendar took off again and eventually spread overseas. Nowadays, companies and retailers around the world make all kinds, from children’s calendars with toys inside to calendars for pets to luxury choices like the annual one from Liberty.
The Advent calendar Eva Roussel (Eugénie Derouand) receives in the movie, though, is a bit different. Her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) gives it to her as a birthday gift. It’s straight out of the Münchner Christkindlmarkt (the Munich Christmas market), and the fact that Sophie actually stole it should be the first clue that this won’t turn out well.
That reminds me of Gremlins, actually. It too begins with a shaky transaction–Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) did not want to sell that mogwai. And the present at the center of both movies comes with three extremely firm rules. But unlike Gremlins, The Advent Calendar doesn’t really acknowledge the reason for the season. Yes, even though it revolves around an Advent calendar and some of the candy pieces are baby Jesus…es.
The Advent Calendar: A Case of the Mondays
Then again, Eva is someone who would probably spit at holiday cheer. Once a promising dancer, she’s now a paraplegic who works a dead-end job at an insurance company. Her boss, John (Jérôme Paquatte), who has the general vibe of any given Les Lye (RIP) character on You Can’t Do That on Television, obviously hates her. I mean, he calls her a “half-chick.”
Her personal life is no picnic, either. Her father (Jean-François Garreaud) has Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, her stepmother Agnès (Isabelle Tanakil) wears her hair in a updo festooned with victory rolls. Visually, it has the effect of making her look like a kitty. And that is absolutely the one nice thing I can say about her.
image via Shudder
Outside of her family, yes, Eva has Sophie and she has her dog Marvin. But that’s about it. Men approach her, but some of them go a little funny when they realize she’s in a wheelchair. Others just abuse her.
Obviously then, you can see why a wish fulfillment device would appeal to someone like Eva. And of course, at first it seems like a bit of a joke–a kitschy present that’s very grim and very German. (That’s redundant.)
Then, as they do in this kind of movie, things start happening. The first candy, for instance, is an After Eight, her papa’s favorite candy. After she eats it, her dad calls her. The fact that he’s calling her at all is shocking, given his mental decline. But he’s also calling her on her landline, which is disconnected.
That’s a pleasant effect, of course. As such, it’s just the kind of event to get you hooked. And you don’t even feel it when the hook goes in.
The Advent Calendar Review
As the calendar begins its work, it’s easy not to think about its victims. You (and Eva) might even think they deserve what they get. But as the month drags on, the choices get harder. The calendar starts offering up incredible rewards. How far will Eva go to get what she wants? What is she willing to sacrifice for it?
That’s the central mystery behind this movie, which is essentially a mystery/thriller. Because despite its home on Shudder, it’s not much of a horror. Yes, it’s bloody, but it’s never really scary.
Anyway, while this film is a little slow to start, it soon picks up the pace. You’ll think you’ll be able to predict what’s going to happen. After all, we know what a cursed object–or should I say “objet” since this movie’s French?–does. You wish for money and it gives it to you in the form of a life insurance payout on a loved one. Then another finger on the monkey’s paw curls.
image via Shudder
But there are surprises to be found in this film, mainly because the calendar requires more active participation than these devices usually do. That makes everything a little more visceral, a little more real. If you want what your heart truly desires, then, the calendar says, you’re going to have to work for it. You’re going to have to get your hands bloody.
Luckily, Derouand is up for the task. Playing a role that could come off variously as a mope or a maniac, she instead breathes enough life into Eva to make us know her. We don’t have to drown in exposition or flashback here.
Even without the familiar soundtrack of carol singers, this is an effectively unsettling chiller for the holidays. The ending might be controversial for some viewers, but I like a movie with that kind of courage. It runs the risk of being cheap, but overall, it’s a lot better than the words “Advent calendar horror movie” would lead you to believe.
The Advent Calendar is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.
Talk about this movie, this Advent Calendar review, or your favorite Christmas horrors in these comments or on our social media. And if you don’t have one, then you should check out my Christmas horror movies guide.
featured image via Shudder
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at [email protected]