Friday, December 3, 2021

[Review] ‘The Advent Calendar’ Offers Few Treats Inside Its Cursed Doors

Written and directed by Patrick Ridremont, The Advent Calendar offers an intriguing spin on holiday horror through the use of its titular plot device. For those unaware, an Advent Calendar is a calendar used to track the days leading up to Christmas. The calendar contains doors which people can open on each consecutive day, the inside of each offering a little treat (in my case growing up, there was chocolate behind every door). But for Eva (Eugénie Derouand), her Advent Calendar contains a few extra surprises.

As an ex-dancer who is paraplegic, Eva spends her days working a crap insurance job where she is ridiculed by her boss, swimming, and sitting around the house with her dog. Struggling with a lack of self-confidence, things are far from easy for Eva. But when her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) comes over for her birthday and gifts her an antique Advent Calendar from Germany, Eva’s life changes in drastic ways.

As an object, the calendar itself is fascinating to look at; it is made of wood, designed with intriguing shapes, and decorated with ominous art. As far as the more supernatural side of the calendar goes, that is by far the strongest appeal of The Advent Calendar. Upon receiving the calendar, Eva and Sophie read a message on the back of it that roughly translates to, “Dump it and I’ll kill you.” When Eva opens the first door to the calendar, the moment cuts to that of a mysterious, eerie looking figure; the scene then transitions back to Eva, who takes out a piece of chocolate and eats it. Opening the second door, the moment cuts again to the figure, its monstrous humanoid form sparking intrigue and uneasiness.

Without ever saying too much, the film’s narrative direction does a stellar job keeping audiences in the dark when it comes to the mysteries of the calendar. Up front, Eva and the audience learn that there are rules to the calendar; Rule One for example says that there is candy within it, and once one piece is eaten, all pieces must be eaten. However, as events in Eva’s life erupt in magical (and sometimes horrific) ways, she starts to learn that the items within the calendar stand for something greater than she could ever imagine. As she continues to unlock each door, she must decide how far she is willing to go for a holiday miracle – even if it means sacrificing loved ones.

The premise of a haunted Advent Calendar is an interesting idea – the film providing an excellent job in delivering the supernatural consequences of Eva’s actions as she experiments with the calendar and becomes more obsessed with it. Yet, for as much as Eva makes for a compelling character at times, she is also the film’s weakness (specifically, her role within the plot and means of progressing it).

At first when Eva begins to piece the connection between the calendar and real-life events, one may assume the film is going to take the stereotypical approach of, “Character makes major discovery, character will now try to learn secrets behind discovery.” The Advent Calendar doesn’t do this, which is fine – but instead, its plot meanders. Life and the major events that happen around Eva just play out; besides her drive to further pursue the items behind each calendar door, most of the film is her just experiencing what happens. Minus a scene later where she goes to meet someone, Eva exists mostly as a character who waits to do what is needed of her next.

Eugénie Derouand as Eva – The Advent Calendar – Photo Credit: JEAN-CLAUDE LOTHER/Shudder

This stagnancy also hurts the emotional delivery of several scenes. When Eva learns what the calendar can offer her, she opts to go all in for the final reward (so to speak). But rather than enduring a tug-o-war sort of mentality in having to make brutal and upsetting decisions, her reactions and thought process are almost matter-of-fact. When it comes to a particular decision involving a loved one, it’s almost startling how relatively calm she is; besides some minor hesitancy, she just goes for it, and it feels like what emotional tension the film is trying to convey is vapid. Hell, there is one scene where she is witnessing something sad, is very upset by it, but then way too quickly gets over it. The film takes little time to allow Eva to sit with these heavy moments and feel them out, deciding to just move on after something happens so she can get to the next door in the calendar.

The counter argument to this issue could be that she is super driven to reap the benefits of the calendar, so nothing is going to get in her way. Except, the film throws in an odd twist near its end that completely uproots almost everything Eva has done prior. It’s a realization that undoes much of any significant action she made – and all Eva does is go with the flow. This speaks to the greater issue regarding the messy emotional delivery The Advent Calendar struggles with; when it comes to the major story beats where Eva has to act, it is as if she has said screw it and has given in to this supernatural power. We don’t see much remorse from her, and really, we don’t see that much joy out of her when some good stuff does happen. At the heart of Eva’s experience is very much cold obsession.

The Advent Calendar stumbles much when it comes to everything outside its neat premise. Where the film does succeed in providing a rush of tension and suspense through its bloodier moments and use of the supernatural, its protagonist and her drive struggle to convey an experience of substance. It’s very much a matter of the film telling us this is the emotion we the audience should be feeling, that feeling coming across weak for the most part. The Advent Calendar is unfortunately a film that is more so a great premise with some cool moments, but has little to offer in terms of satisfying drama or depth.


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