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Shudder Secrets: The Advent Calendar: The Monkey’s Paw with a Holiday Twist

If you’re tired of watching the same old holiday horror classics like Black Christmas or Silent Night, Deadly Night, then the French film The Advent Calendar may be for you. It takes the familiar premise of the early 20th Century story “The Monkey’s Paw” and adds a Christmas twist. The protagonist, a paraplegic, is so desperate to walk again. she obeys the strange rules of a demonic advent calendar while endangering those closest to her.

The result is a holiday horror movie that feels fresh and innovative. It takes a classic story arc and gives it fresh teeth. Oh, and the demon at the center of the film looks pretty cool, too.

Be Careful What You Wish For

In W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” a mystical charm, a monkey’s paw, is brought into the home of the White family by Sergeant Major Morris, who served in India. The monkey’s paw can grant three wishes to three people. Each wish, however, comes with grave consequences. It’s a familiar cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for. The story has been retold time and time again within the horror genre, and in Danse Macabre, Stephen King notes it’s one of the most common genre story ideas.

In writer/director Patrick Ridremont’s film, the titular advent calendar is a sort of monkey’s paw. It’s given to Eva (Eugénie Derouand) by her best friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier) for her birthday in early December. Sophie stole it from a market and seemingly has no regrets. Advent calendars have a German origin. Each door leading to Christmas contains a small piece of chocolate. Initially, the advent was a period for converts to Christianity to prepare for baptism. Now, it’s more commonly associated with the anticipation of Christ’s birth on December 25. For Eva, each door builds to her ultimate wish fulfillment, the chance to walk again, to be resurrected and healed, so to speak. A Christmas miracle? Not quite.

Once a talented dancer, Eva keeps in shape by swimming. She’s certain that if she obeys all the rules, then the calendar will allow her to walk again. She just needs to open each ornate door when the clock strikes midnight. The problem is that like “The Monkey’s Paw,” the more Eva wishes for something, the more her friends are imperiled, specifically by a terrifying demon whose association with the calendar isn’t quite known. Soon, no one in Eva’s world is safe, not even her dog.

A Glimpse into Eva’s World

This film could have fumbled with its protagonist, but thankfully it doesn’t. Eva is a well-drawn character, bolstered by Derouand’s steady performance. For much of the film, we see and feel her world. Her foul-mouthed boss, for instance, calls her a “half-chick on wheels” and constantly berates her performance as an insurance saleswoman. His hire to replace her, Myriam (Laura Presgurvic), spends her work hours staring into the mirror, touching up her make-up, while demanding that Eva swap her window spot in the office with her. Further, she’s so insensitive that she says she doesn’t understand how Eva could function in her “state.” No matter how much Eva hustles around the office, it’s never good enough.

Additionally, Eva must fight off a sexual assault from an online trader who’s so cocksure that he thinks a woman disabled would feel lucky to be with him. In one of the most harrowing scenes, he dumps her on the side of the road with her wheelchair when she refuses him.

Even Sophie, who generally seems well-intentioned, sometimes takes advantage of Eva or ignores her desires, perhaps without realizing that she’s doing it. She swoops in on a guy that Eva initially clicks with, for instance, and leaves her with the abusive trader. The Advent Calendar succeeds in showing the daily struggles someone in Eva’s position faces. However, the film is quite careful never to make her into a helpless victim. Through the calendar and with the help of a demon, she finds her power. It’s also understandable why Eva keeps opening the doors and endangering those closest to her, including her dad who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She desperately wants to walk again. Can you blame her, especially when she wanted to build a career around dancing?

The Rules

Courtesy of Shudder

The Advent Calendar also has a clever premise that separates it from the typical “Monkey’s Paw” storyline. At the beginning of the film, Eva records a video, warning the next recipient of the calendar to follow the rules. If they don’t obey all the rules, they face death. The rules, as Eva learns, are simple. Don’t dump the calendar. Eat every chocolate. Obey all the rules.

The film builds its suspense with each door that Eva opens and each chocolate that she consumes. Some of them bring back memories, like the reason for Eva’s paralyzed state. Others instruct her who to kill to walk again. Advent calendars are meant to build suspense and anticipation while counting down to Christmas. In Eva’s case, if she doesn’t open each door at midnight and obey the instructions, she faces death or loses the chance to ever walk again. She becomes more and more obsessed with the calendar the closer it gets to Christmas.

If there’s one flaw with the film, it’s that the demon somehow associated with the calendar is never given any backstory. It’s one of the coolest and most horrifying creatures seen in any horror film this year. It commands attention whenever it’s on screen, and it’s given just enough screen time to be effective in its role. However, it’s given no backstory. While the mystery of who created the calendar works, I only wish that the creature was given just a little more spotlight. Still, that complaint is minor against what’s a strong film overall.

The Bleakness of Holiday Horror

The Advent Calendar builds to an ending that’s ambiguous. The conclusion will leave viewers guessing which decision Eva ultimately made regarding whether she’ll walk again permanently. But the film itself is bleak, often featuring dark tones and dimly lit interior shots. The sacrifices Eva must make to earn the one thing she really wants grow more and more severe with each door she opens.

Yet, the film is in line with a lot of holiday horror. In Black Christmas, final girl Jess (Olivia Hussey) is left alone in the house with the killer after the inept police believe they already solved the case. It’s difficult to watch that film and see any scenario where Jess survives the night once the cops leave. In a more recent example, Anna and the Apocalypse, zombies devour most of the cast, while the few survivors are left to live in a world where they watched their loved ones die and have little chance of surviving themselves. That film is the total opposite of a Hollywood ending. It even has a song that pokes fun at such endings.

Though The Advent Calendar’s ending is open to plenty of interpretation and guessing, the calendar will keep passing from one person to the next, even if the previous owner tried to enclose a warning within the calendar about its dangers. It doesn’t matter. All of us have secret desires. As “The Monkey’s Paw” and this film warns us, humans are more willing than not to surrender to those deepest wishes. The consequences don’t matter.

Overall, The Advent Calendar takes a familiar premise and updates the tale for the holidays. It’s a highly imaginative film with a great creature/demon, a sympathetic protagonist, and a decent supporting cast, too. It’s a film I can see myself re-watching when the holidays roll around, along with Black Christmas, Gremlins, and other holiday horror favorites.

The Advent Calendar comes to Shudder on December 2. For more on the streaming service’s latest and original content, check out my weekly Shudder Secrets column.