Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

As the holiday season begins its approach, an early contender for this year’s best holiday horror film makes waves. I have always wanted one of those cute holiday advent calendars, but new horror The Advent Calendar has put me off of them, permanently. Despite having very few elements of typical Christmas horror features, Patrick Ridremont’s French horror The Advent Calendar provides shocking surprises, Final Destination-like kills, a horrifying demon-monster, makeshift voodoo dolls, a sprinkling of Jumanji, and a recording similar to The Evil Dead incantations. Throw in a talented cast (especially Eugénie Derouand), and you will definitely want to mark down the day you can catch this film on a calendar of your very own.

Eva (Derouand) may be a paraplegic ex-dancer, but she refuses to let her handicap define her. She works for Atanoic Assurances, selling family insurance despite dealing with her rude coworkers, one of which even says she is “really brave for working in that state.” Her father is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and Eva can barely get him on the phone to say hello. On her birthday, Eva has a mostly miserable time up until her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) shows up as a surprise with several gifts in tow: German cake, champagne, and an antique wooden advent calendar stolen from the Munich Christmas Market. If Hellraiser taught me one thing, it is that you never take strange items from markets and expect things to go your way. Apparently, Eva and Sophie did not get the memo.

“Dump it and I’ll kill you,” a mysterious message written on the back of the advent calendar in German informs them. The first gift to pop out is a wrapped-up piece of chocolate, but it carries with it an ominous proclamation of the rules. If you eat one piece of candy, you must eat them all “or I’ll kill you;” respect all the rules until the last door “or I’ll kill you.” At first, the message does little more than make Eva uneasy, but the strange circumstances grow creepier by the second. Eva receives a happy birthday call from her father. Was the candy drugged? The bodies start piling up as each date on the calendar opens up to reveal a new horror in store.

I must admit that I was annoyed when I started The Advent Calendar and was greeted with one of my least favorite filmmaking techniques: a framing device that starts the action at the tail end of the story before reversing and showing the audience how the film arrived there. However, in this case, I was immediately invested. This is a horror/thriller that takes its time establishing the stakes and the status quo so that when the nastiness kicks in, it hits you that much harder. The death of a dog and torn-open nails are especially difficult to watch.

Eva’s character is sketched with bold colors, and forced to make several impossible choices. Her final decision as she nears the end of the calendar was surprising and original. Eva is fascinating to watch as her circumstances grow darker and more hopeless. Ultimately, her journey is what the audience will care about as we barrel towards a unique conclusion. I think The Advent Calendar would make for a great ongoing film franchise judging by the way it ends, or perhaps even a TV series that deals with a person who receives the calendar. I know personally, it was one of my favorite movies I saw at this year’s FrightFest.

The Advent Calendar counts down when it premieres exclusively to Shudder members in December of 2021. It screened at this year’s Arrow Video FrightFest.

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