In a year where previously delayed horror movies finally made it to theaters – often with underwhelming results – Shudder continued to deliver consistent horror programming. Some of this year’s standout horror movies – The Power, V/H/S/94, and The Boy Behind the Door – premiered on the horror streaming platform. Now as Christmas approaches, Shudder’s latest release, French-horror The Advent Calendar, puts a Yule-twist on a familiar horror trope. It’s another ta ke on the ‘be careful what you wish for’ narrative courtesy of Richard Matheson’s The Monkey’s Paw. But critics seem more impressed with the results than other recent iterations (Wish Upon).
Once a promising dancer, Eva struggles to adjust to life confined to a wheelchair following a car accident. As the Christmas holidays approach, Eva finds herself stuck in a dead-end job and cut off from her Alzheimer’s father. But when her friend, Sophie, returns from Munich with a strange-looking wooden advent calendar as a gift, Eva’s world takes a mysterious turn. Each candy she eats seems to grant her a hidden desire, some darker than others. And once Eva realizes what the final door in the calendar holds in store for her, it may be too late to stop.
The Advent Calendar Mostly Overcomes the Limitations of a Familiar Story
For a movie called The Advent Calendar, don’t expect much in the way of any Christmas-themed horror. Rather writer and director Patrick Ridremont marries his Monkey Paw-inspired thriller with something akin to Hellraiser set against the holiday season. And yes, The Advent Calendar’s demonic presence will be worth the wait. Horror fans will likely revel in the inspired make-up effects. But while you wait, Ridremont neatly arranges his moral quandary as you watch Eva navigate a world insensitive to anyone who’s remotely different. There’s a definite Twilight Zone-structure to the movie’s story as the rules of its ‘advent calendar’ are established. It’s a double-edged sword as much of the movie’s mood and suspense comes from its methodically paced twists.
And yes, The Advent Calendar’s demonic presence will be worth the wait.
Nonetheless, at an hour and 45 minutes (or 24 days on the calendar), the story strains itself. There’s also a bit of an absence of actual scares. Fortunately, The Advent Calendar finds its footing more often than not. In place of scares, Ridremont relies on more visceral shocks. There’s a handful of nasty treats hidden behind some of the calendar’s doors. Moreover, The Advent Calendar deftly sets up an inevitable heartbreaking endgame fairly early in the story. As a result, Ridremont ensures there’s a big payoff in the climax as well as an ambiguous ending that’s sure to inspire some debate.
A Strong Leading Performance Limited Only By The Story Itself
Audiences won’t likely recognize anyone in the cast and Eugenie Derouand (Eva) doesn’t have too much under her belt yet. But Derouand turns in an exceptionally strong performance that continuously draws on the audience’s sympathy even when her choices increasingly grow morally ambiguous. In particular, Derouand capably balances a range of emotions lending her character some complexity. It’s Derouand’s performance that invests some emotional stakes into the movie as she inches closer to her dream of walking again even when it comes at great personal and moral costs. Though The Advent Calendar understandably hinges on Derouand, the thriller does shortchange one supporting character who felt like they deserved a little more from the story.
It’s Derouand’s performance that invests some emotional stakes into the move as she inches closer to her dream of walking again even when it comes at great personal and moral cost.
And this is one of The Advent Calendar’s more glaring problems. At times, Ridremont sacrifices scares and emotional payoff to satisfy The Twilight Zone structure of his story. For instance, the presence of a minor character at the climax in place of the above-mentioned supporting character for whom audiences may have held some interest is surprising. Certainly, you won’t expect some turn of events. But it’s not emotionally satisfying. Likewise Ridremont’s dangling of key bits information about Eva adds additional twists to the story. Yet these twists comes at the expense of a more satisfying character arc.
The Advent Calendar Will Have You Opening Each Door ‘Till Its Climax
Arguably, The Advent Calendar never quite escapes its feeling of familiarity. In spite of its title, the thriller also feels oddly removed from Christmas. Still its story-telling approach with the material mostly overcomes this limitation. Important story points find their way into the movie at times that manage to surprise. With strong performances, emotional stakes, and a consistently haunting mood, The Advent Calendar deserves a look from horror fans. It also caps off a good year from Shudder.
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