As far as holiday traditions go, advent calendar are pretty lame; The Advent Calendar is lamer.
Break out your horror premise Bingo cards, because if you marked “evil Christmas trinket,” you just hit paydirt. Belgium import The Advent Calendar concerns the beloved titular item, here presented as a sinister force that will grant you everything you could possibly desire — but at a price. Obviously. Indeed, the film takes the old adage “Be careful what you wish for” and applies it to as innocuous an item as one could possibly imagine. Aside from providing a few extra calories with its daily dose of holiday delectables, there’s nothing particularly menacing or suspect about an advent calendar, even if, as one character points out, it was “invented by the Germans.” In fact, aside from its facility as a nifty countdown device, it feels as though writer-director Patrick Ridremont might have simply wanted to make an evil djinn movie but, realizing that subgenre’s particular track record, transplanted his action to whatever random item he saw sitting around his house. Maybe we should just be thankful this isn’t The Brita Water Filter. Or maybe not. The mind reels.
To make matters worse, absolutely nothing is done with the holiday setting, and the sight of our heroine, Eva (Eugénie Derouand), anxiously awaiting the stroke of midnight so she can open yet another tiny door grows numbing long before the end credits hit. Eva is twenty-something and paraplegic, the result of a car accident that destroyed her professional dance career. When best friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) gifts her the eponymous, hand-carved item for her birthday, Eva sees it as nothing more than a humorous piece of kitsch, its various warnings about possible death at the hands of an unknown “Ich” more adorable than portentous. (She must not be aware that the majority of advent calendars do not come with ominous threats etched into their woodwork.) As Eva unlocks the first compartment, we are treated to an interior (?) shot of the calendar itself, where a sinewy figure — covered in bloody wounds and adorned in a wooden mask nestled above his gnarled mouth — jerks forth and comes to life, bathed in a glowing purple light. As Eva soon discovers, the calendar knows your innermost wants and desires, and will provide everything you could possibly want — just so long as you eat its candy. (It’s a trap, kids.) Before long, Eva has a hunky boyfriend and a small fortune in cash, but she becomes suspicious when the candy seems to be curing her dementia-addled father, who proceeds to contact her on a disconnected phone. Then there’s also the matter of people who have wronged Eva horrifically dying, meaning that this film is not only an entry into the evil wishes canon, but also something of a riff on George A. Romero’s cult classic Monkey Shines, in which a paraplegic man has a psychological connection with a capuchin that carries out his most sinister thoughts.
Part of the problem with The Advent Calendar is that it takes Eva so long to figure out what’s going on, her stupidity a byproduct of the lazy script itself, and an instrument of the film’s tediousness. Once she finally gets the memo, which is right around the time that she is able to miraculously walk again, the film has wasted so much time that it’s barely able to allow the character to luxuriate in the spoils of the calendar, too quickly setting her on a collision course with the evil that powers it. Ridremont at least knows better than to send Eva on a mission to try to figure out its origins in some vain bid to stop it, but her deductions regarding the possessed Christmas calendar come seemingly out of nowhere, especially for a character that was so distinctly dunderheaded for the majority of the film’s running time. The ending itself is an epic nothing, with Ridremont choosing to keep things vague in ways that are wholly unsatisfying and make no sense whatsoever; and that goes double for the film’s ludicrous final shot. At the end of the day, The Advent Calendar feels like a particularly subpar Blumhouse production, approximating the “appeal” of something like Fantasy Island: slickly produced and watchable in the moment, but not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, inspiring annoyance and not much else. Getting some candy around the holidays really shouldn’t be this difficult or dull.
You can currently stream Patrick Ridremont’s The Advent Calendar on Shudder.