Festive horror continues to do big business, possibly because Christmas is such an intense time of year, or maybe because pairing something joyous with something horrifying nearly always works like gangbusters. Recent years have seen a glut of terrific new Christmas horror movies released, from Better Watch Out to the unfairly maligned Black Christmas reboot. Belgian horror The Advent Calendar, the sophomore feature from writer-director Patrick Ridremont (2012’s Dead Man Talking), seeks to join your festive horror nice list with a combination of old-school mysticism, shocking body horror and a bad ass heroine we can all get behind.
More disabled protagonists are needed across the board, but especially in horror. As Curse of Chucky demonstrated, there’s a ton of scare potential to be mined from chasing down somebody who can’t easily run away. Likewise, showcasing how difficult day to day life can be for differently abled people is a worthy exercise, regardless of whether the film itself is based around fantasy, as is the case here. In fact, some of The Advent Calendar’s strongest moments revolve around the difficulties paraplegic protagonist Eva (Eugénie Derouand) has with work (her boss is a real prick), dating (men are intimidated by her wheelchair), and even simply getting around. Eva endures a horrifying sexual assault but watching her navigating the layout of a packed bar is just as devastating.
This is a horror film, though, and the villain in this case is an evil advent calendar that we know not to trust right off the bat because it came from Germany. The instructions amount to “do what the calendar says, or you die” but, for the first little while at least, Eva’s life really improves thanks to her new toy. She finds a boyfriend, reconnects with her Alzheimer’s-riddled father and, most pertinently of all, starts to walk a little bit again. However, everything good must come with a price and Eva soon learns if she wants to fully regain the use of her legs, people must die by her hand. If that sounds somewhat contrived and over-complicated, consider there’s also a literal advent calendar involved.
At 104 minutes, The Advent Calendar is somehow simultaneously slim on plot and baggy in execution. The various scenarios conjured up by the titular box are diabolical, and the model itself looks cool, but the decision to go day by day makes the pacing inescapably sluggish. There simply isn’t a strong enough, or sufficiently fleshed out, idea to justify such an indulgent run-time. And yet, there’s a throwaway comment about “anti-hallucination pills” that seems to hint at something going on mentally with Eva that’s completely under-developed. Likewise, the body horror could’ve been pushed much further, and the ending is abrupt, despite everything that’s come before. There’s equally way too much going on and not nearly enough to fill a bloated 100+ minutes of movie.
It’s a shame, because Derouand is terrific in the lead role. She’s committed to making Eva a three-dimensional character, rather than someone defined by her disability, as evidenced by a cringe-worthy exchange with a well-meaning man at her local swimming pool early in the film. Likewise, Clément Olivieri does fine work as her sweet, shy paramour William. The jaunty score, by Thomas Couzinier Frédéric Kooshmanian, is a lively addition even if it feels more suited to something like Krampus, with its outlandish premise and stronger dedication to the creepy festive spirit. The design of the creature known only as “Ich” is scary and evocative, though it calls to mind other horror movies including Hellraiser and the memorable poster for 2017’s Terrified.
As with most of the other elements to the movie, The Advent Calendar is strongest when it keeps things vague. The more the premise is unraveled, the less effective it is. Suffice to say, this is middling festive horror fare, neither too naughty to truly shock nor too nice to fully win us over.
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WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Patrick Ridremont
Writer(s): Patrick Ridremont
Stars: Eugénie Derouand, Honorine Magnier, Clément Olivieri
Release date: October 2, 2021 (Shudder)
Run Time: 104 minutes