Frightfest presents The Advent Calendar, premiering December 2nd only on Shudder.
Once upon a time, a beautiful antique wooden advent calendar sat waiting for a new owner in a German Christmas market; this calendar was full of small locked boxes, hidden compartments and delicious sweet treats. But, etched on the back of the box was something strange and eerie “Schmeiß es weg und ich werde dich umbringen”. In English, this translates to “Dump it, and I’ll kill you”, the name attached to the quote, ‘Ich’ or ‘I’.
Meanwhile, far away from the German Market, an ex-dancer swims at her local pool, attracting the attention of a young male swimmer. As he sits on the ledge next to her, he makes his play for her attention, commenting on her beauty. But the young woman quickly asks if he can pull her wheelchair closer to the ledge, assuming he will lose interest once he knows of her paraplegia—her abrupt actions dismissing his interest before he has time to find his voice.
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The woman’s name is Eva Roussel (Eugénie Derouand); her disability, the result of a tragic car accident many years before. Her career as a dancer abruptly ended only to be replaced by a dead-end job in telemarketing with a discriminatory and oppressive boss. To add to Eva’s pain, her father suffers from the final stages of dementia in isolation, his carer preventing Eva from visiting. But, despite the pain surrounding her, there is a cause for some celebration as Eva’s birthday draws near. Her best friend, Sophie (Honorine Magnier), returning from a job in Germany to celebrate with Eva just as Christmas draws near.
As Sophie arrives at Eva’s house, she carries with her alcohol and gifts. But one gift stands out, a beautifully crafted wooden advent calendar from a German Christmas market. But, as Eva opens the first box on the calendar with Sophie present, an ominous message reads, “If you eat one sweet, you must eat them all”. Is the advent calendar a game of stringent rules? Or is it a darkly poetic remnant of ancient German folklore?
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As Eva follows the rules established by the mysterious wooden box, it demands more of her time. A creepy pop-up figure announcing midnight and the opening of yet another door, where a sweet treat sits waiting. But, as strange occurrences surround each newly opened box, the truth of the game soon becomes apparent. After all, miracles come with a price, even at Christmas, and ‘Ich’ asks for nothing more than your commitment, obedience and soul.
Writer/director Patrick Ridremont’s outstanding Christmas horror is both riveting and terrifying. His expertly crafted screenplay, dovetailing elements of Faust with Hellraiser, in a twisted interpretation of the classic Christmas movie. One where a good woman must descend into darkness in claiming the Christmas spoils that lay before her. The ‘Ich’, a physical manifestation of Freud’s Id, Ego and SuperEgo. Eva’s Id, her base instincts and curiosity, her Ego, the reality of her situation and her desire to change it, and her SuperEgo, the corruption the box demands.
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However, while The Advent Calendar may play with several tried and tested horror tropes, its mix of psychological terror and folklore feels utterly unique. Here classic European horror reigns supreme. Each of its performances, rich in complexity while understated and wrapped in mystery. While at the same time, its Christmas setting is never overplayed, as in most Hollywood Christmas horrors. Here the colour palette and score remain subdued throughout, never falling into the festive trap of so many of its contemporaries. In fact, despite its festive premise, The Advent Calendar feels grounded in the reality of the holidays. Its exploration of isolation and internal conflict, reflecting the feelings many people carry during the festive period.
The result is a devilishly brilliant festive horror that writhes with tension. Its narrative, asking us one simple question, how far would you go for the ultimate Christmas miracle? But, be warned, the answer is far more complicated than it would initially seem, the film’s finale offering Eva a twisted final choice. And here, The Advent Calendar leaves us with more questions than it ultimately answers, paving the way for a possible franchise.
I do not doubt that this is one European horror that will spawn an unnecessary American remake in the future. But, its European roots are what make it exceptional, offering us an atmosphere many American horrors can only dream of. The Advent Calendar is a symbolic representation of the ongoing battle between our Id, Ego and SuperEgo. The horror of its story, held in the psychology of our wants, desires, past traumas and longing for happiness, no matter the cost.