Wednesday 22 December 2021

The Advent Calendar

Slay Ride

The Advent Calendar
aka Le Calendrier
France/Belgium 2021
Directed by Patrick Ridremont

Warning: Plot set up spoilers.

Although not having too many Christmas trappings to it other than the titular element, The Advent Calendar is a remarkable slice of Christmas horror cake. A horror movie for the season which is actually really well made and that keeps you enthralled to the very end.

The story involves Eva (played by Eugénie Derouand), who lives alone and who has been wheelchair bound since a car accident, which happened when she was travelling with her best friend Sophie (played by Honorine Magnier), left her paralysed from the waste down. She has a terrible job working for a nightmare of a boss and a grim attitude to the life she has been left living. Then, on her birthday in early December, Sophie gives her an old fashioned, elabourately carved Advent Calendar, with various drawers and concealed compartments (as it turns out), which she acquired from a market in Germany. Carved in the back is a warning which is also the third of three rules written when the first door is unlocked... and the first of a daily special candy and instruction or saying are both revealed. When Eve unlocks and opens the first door, something menacing is awakened in the calendar.
The first three rules are as follows... written in German but, luckily, Sophie can read and speak the language.

Rule 1: If you eat one, eat them all... or I’ll kill you.

Rule 2: Respect all rules until you open the last door... or I’ll kill you.

Rule 3: Dump it... and I’ll kill you.

So, of course, Eva pops the first candy into her mouth and various different sweets and rules are revealed as she goes, such as “Destroy what hurt you!” and with an angel piece of confectionery which appears a few times in the course of the sequence with the words “Jesus said to the cripple, arise and walk.” And every day Eva eats a candy and each time she does, it has real world consequences... with the sinister spirit residing within the Advent Calendar both protecting her (such as when a guy tries to rape Eva and then leaves her stranded on a road... I won’t tell you what the calendar does to him) but also making Eva kill certain people (and an animal) in her life for fear of death. As a taster, one specific piece of candy shaped like a clock causes Eva to instantly lose four days of her life, which itself has consequences. And the white, angelic sweets, well... they give her the use of her legs back for a period of time. Another candy gets her a boyfriend but, that also has a sting in the tail later in the movie. And as the days go by until the 24th December, Eva starts to piece the clues together and work out the rules of the game... as well as realising she has a decision to make when it comes to the very last piece of candy.

And it’s brilliant. I love French cinema and the director really does a pretty great job of weaving a credible tail from incredible subject matter. The film has a lot of imaginative elements in it, such as when the boyfriend sees a message being scratched backward in a compartment of the calendar and the reveal of that moment from a different perspective a little later in the movie. The cinematography is awesome too. They do some wonderful stuff with the colour palette here. For example, Eva’s father has Alzheimer’s and he doesn’t recognise or speak to anybody... apart from... okay, that’s something else you will discover. However, when we first see him, the way the rooms are lit in a shot, places the step-mother in a warm room with warm coloured light bouncing off her whereas, the pale husk of a man sitting in the foreground of the shot in another room... is all white and pale neutral colours, like the blood has drained from his body and soul. Great stuff. Or a shot where Clare is beneath the surface of a swimming pool with her boyfriend... I can’t tell you the context under which this happens for fear of more spoilers but the sequence is beautiful, with just their bodies highlighted and purple tones lighting and accentuating them within the shot.

The acting is really wonderful too. Magnier’s performance as Eva’s happy-go-lucky, flirty best friend Sophie is pretty great and Derouand’s turn as Eva herself is absolutely brilliant. She plays the character at times with a bitter attitude towards life in general and, at other times, going a little out of her mind at the things which are happening to her since she started opening the drawers/doors of the calendar. She really knocks it out the park here and it certainly gives the film a big, solid anchor around which the director can get away with floating the various supernatural ideas. I need to see what else she’s been in, I think.

It’s also clear that, should it come to it, there are a whole bunch of opportunities for sequels, as the double ending of the movie makes clear. I say double ending, there’s the ending which brings Eva to a point where... well, it’s just perfect where they end it with her. Also, though... and I wasn’t expecting this... there’s a little ‘One Year Later’ moment in the movie which really opens up the possibility of this becoming some kind of horror franchise if a studio so desires and, frankly, of all the horror franchises out there, this one seems much more worthy of exploring in future films due to the calendar creating a slightly different kind of relationship with each person it’s gifted to, exploring what’s behind the doors.

So, yeah, that’s my take on The Advent Calendar and, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. This is exactly the kind of movie I would rush out and buy on Blu Ray if I was able to so, hopefully I’ll get that opportunity at some point. A truly gripping, suspenseful and, above all, interesting seasonal horror movie, for sure.

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