LE CALENDRIER) Movie Poster | ©2021 Shudder

LE CALENDRIER) Movie Poster | ©2021 Universal Pictures

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Eugénie Derouand, Honorine Magnier, Clément Olivieri, Janis Abrikh, Cyril Garnier, Vladimir Perrin, Jean-François Garreaud
Writer: Patrick Ridremont
Director: Patrick Ridremont
Distributor: Universal/Shudder
Release Date: December 2, 2021

THE ADVENT CALENDAR is worth seeing for its title object alone. The antique wooden advent calendar, with a different size and design for each of its doors, is a joy of design, something any collector of folk art would be delighted to own – assuming they didn’t know what this advent calendar does.

Eva Roussel (Eugénie Derouand) introduces herself, speaking directly into camera. She says she is a paraplegic, and that if we’re watching this, we have the advent calendar. She wants to warn us about its rules.

Flash back to the beginning of December. Eva, a former classical dancer, is now in a wheelchair, although she remains a strong swimmer. She lives in an unidentified European city (unclear whether we’re in Belgium or France, but everyone speaks French). Eva sells insurance for a boss who ought to be pulled up on HR charges, and lives alone with her dog Marvin.

Then Eva’s ebullient friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) drops by for a holiday visit. Sophie has been living in Germany, where she’s picked up a Christmas gift for Eva. This is the advent calendar. It has instructions in German, which Sophie is able to translate.

The rules as they are laid out by the calendar, on its candy wrappers, are pretty straightforward. First, if you’re going to eat any of the candies behind the doors of the advent calendar, you must eat them all (not all at once, but on the days that correspond to the numbers on the doors). Second, you must follow the rules until the last day. Last, so important it’s repeated on the back of the object: don’t dump the calendar or I’ll kill you. The “I” here is represented by a scary pop-up figure who emerges from the calendar’s top.

At first, the advent calendar’s surprises are good ones, like allowing Eva to reconnect with her Alzheimer’s-stricken father (Jean-François Garreaud) and getting satisfying vengeance on a would-be attacker. But the calendar begins demanding sacrifices and acting on its own.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR ends with an intriguing twist, which would be even more potent if it had been set up a bit better. The screenplay by writer/director Patrick Ridremont doesn’t exactly follow its own rules. Nothing bad happens to Eva when other people eat some of the candies, for instance, and there are plenty of times when she doesn’t have a choice of what to do. Also, some characters make huge deductive leaps.

On the other hand, Ridremont has created something genuinely beautiful, with the look of a dark fairytale. Scenes are bathed in deep jewel-tone colors, and shafts of light put Eva in her own world. And again, the advent calendar itself is a marvelous creation.

Derouand is forceful and compelling, Magnier is appealing, and Clément Oliveri is likable as Eva’s caring new friend.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR is very gory, though it has few jump scares. It ends on a note of earned ambiguity. It has something that (spoiler alert) will really irritate people who don’t like the way animals are treated like props in a lot of horror movies, but otherwise, the film maintains a hypnotic mood that builds to an effective moral quandary.

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