At first blush, the idea of a film about a seemingly haunted advent calendar sounds like a set-up for a campy holiday horror; however, this film, directed by Patrick Ridremont, is far from it.
The film follows the story of Eva (Eugénie Derouand), a paraplegic woman whose friend gifted her with a peculiar advent calendar made of wood and sinister artwork. The Advent Calendar opens with an interesting premise: “Obey the rules of the advent calendar, or you will die.” Eagle-eyed viewers may notice the runes carved into it right away. However, even those who don’t notice the ominous drawings are made aware by the message inscribed on the back that this advent calendar has more than candy inside:
“Schmeisst du es weg Töte ich dich!”
(German to English Translation: “Throw me away, and I’ll kill you!”)
The German origin of the advent calendar is especially fitting given that Germany is reportedly where the first-ever advent calendar originated.
This foreign horror film made a piece of iconic horror memorabilia with this advent calendar, which puts all other holiday countdown devices to shame with its intricate complexity. More than that, and the captivating tale of terror that unfolds because of it, meaningful themes of sexism, ableism, and empowerment create a story whose horror’s only rival is the importance of the underlying commentary – commentary that was perhaps two hundred years in the making.
Filmed in Brussels, The Advent Calendar is in French with English subtitles. While some may have mixed feelings about films you must read, I find them particularly compelling. Reading the words to understand the dialogue in the film only guarantees you cannot look away. If a movie is immersive enough, at some point, you forget that you don’t hear the words aloud anyway. It’s a creepy little effect I appreciate in foreign films, and it was most certainly present here.
One section of dialogue that worked particularly well deserves attention.
Upon receiving the haunted advent calendar and reading the threatening German inscription on the back, Eva states: “Sounds grim,” to which her friend replies, “Germans are grim.” The significant part of this dialogue is that the famous fairytale creators, the Brothers Grimm, were from Germany. Viewers can draw numerous connections from this piece to their stories, whether it was the director’s intention or not.
Some examples of Brothers Grimm themes exist in the evil stepmother character and the entity that offers things desired for a price. However, closer inspection reveals that much of the film correlates to themes from the Brothers Grimm fairytales. I highly recommend watching the movie, then reading at least the abstract for Megan Mohlke’s “The Grimm Fairy Tales: An Analysis of Family and Society,” found here. Potential spoilers since the report so closely mirror the characters and their choices in the film.
Outside of the themes mirroring the infamous fairytale creators from the 1800s, the film also explored social injustices that are still far too common today.
At its core, the film is about objectification, sexism, and ableism. Through Eva, we see that not only do men treat her differently because she’s a woman but additionally, men and women treat her as lesser due to her disability. As the statement of one irredeemable character exemplified it:
“You’re just a half chick on wheels.”
This film deals heavily with the feeling of powerlessness but then doubles down on empowerment. Eva exhibits strength in her torment but is simultaneously human as she is not without her flaws or weakness to temptation. She has to lose everything to gain control of anything, and it’s a beautiful sentiment, though viewers may not realize this beauty if it weren’t for the contrasted ugliness of the world surrounding her. Interestingly, a similar notion applies to the advent calendar itself.
The Best Advent Calendar
Within the first ten minutes, the film revealed that the wooden advent calendar had ornately painted, locked doors, rules to abide by, and a nightmarish creature lurking within. It was apparent that an object of this haunting caliber would be well-placed amongst the likes of horror infamy in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s little room of haunted horrors as made famous by The Conjuring.
This object is the advent calendar that all of the advent calendars of the cheap, cardboard punch-out variety wish they could be, minus all of the evil and supernatural hijinks. However, it’s interesting that the only real tie to Christmas the film makes is the advent calendar itself and the dates involved.
Those looking for a holiday horror film that tells a creepy story with an underlying meaning, without being hit over the head with jingle bells, holiday cheer, Santa, or his elves – look no further. With its powerful ancient and modern themes and the unforgettable curiosity that is the item itself, The Advent Calendar is a captivating tale from start to finish.
Stream The Advent Calendar on Shudder today and look out for connections to the Brothers Grimm.
When You Need a Scary Movie That’s Actually Scary: ‘Terrified’
Horror fans are constantly searching for a horror movie that will scare them. Predictability is one of the major culprits of the dilution of horror in horror films. Many of us feel it has already been done and then gets redone ad infinitum. There tends to be a format that scary movies follow, making it so that even new films don’t feel new. And those that try to differ from this pit of repetition tend to find themselves so far on the fringes that the work doesn’t translate well to general audiences.
The film Terrified on Shudder is widely regarded as one of the best that the horror platform offers, and with good reason. With its continuous sequences of pure nightmare fuel, there is no telling what will happen from one minute to the next. As the mystery unfolds, the terror only rises until reaching a crescendo of full-on calamity. Through the perspectives of numerous characters, Terrified tells a chilling story that doesn’t let up, even after it’s over. If you want a scary movie to watch, Terrified is objectively it.
A Unique Story Structure Created a Great Horror Film
The way the movie opens immediately lets viewers know something otherworldly is happening. The story follows the paranormal experiences of different people in a small place in Buenos Aires and the ensuing investigation into these experiences.
The way Terrified tells its tale is one thing that makes it stand out among other horror movies. The story unravels in a way that makes it feels like everyone is the main character, thus making all their experiences feel much more personal and horrific. It’s difficult to know whom we’re supposed to be paying the closest attention to, so we pay more attention to everyone, magnifying the horror. Additionally, numerous storylines take place all at once, causing a total onslaught of tragedy and horror sequences in a way that makes complete sense. The storyline also stood out for the fluid timeline as frequent time jumps occur.
Time Flies When You’re Terrified
Just as a character remarks in the film, time moves differently here. The constant action-packed sequence of events that unfolds creates a sense of time distortion where minutes fly by. This is because viewers’ brains are working overtime to process everything they’ve just seen – the ramifications of what they’ve witnessed while simultaneously being thrust into a new scenario, a new horror, another tragedy. The way everything is presented, one gruesome moment after another, it’s like your brain doesn’t even have time to fully process the last haunting images you saw before you’re grappling with another three. The haunting imagery in this film is unrelenting.
What Makes This Scary Movie Worth the Watch
What’s a scary motion picture without some haunting imagery? When it comes to Terrified, take your pick. A monster under the bed, footprints that travel up walls, and head-turning corpses are only some of this film’s spooky visuals.
The movie uses some gore but does not lean on it to be scary. Likewise, the film doesn’t rely on jump scares, but they are sweat-inducingly effective when they inevitably do happen.‘
Yet, all of this is not where the true terror of Terrified lies.
Maybe it’s because your brain doesn’t have time to process every event before another happens. Perhaps it’s the strange event sequencing, how time jumps back and forth. Maybe it’s the way that everyone is the main character, so the thought of anyone being safe from the events about to unfold feels dismal. Perhaps it’s the onslaught of horrific imagery. Whatever the case, Terrified excels as a horror movie because it sticks with you after it’s over.
Given the depiction of back-to-back tragedies, the film is immediately rewatchable because it all happens quickly. The way this film can balance so much going on at once without ever feeling sloppy, cluttered, or difficult to follow is an impressive feat. Doubly impressive are the nightmarish images that leave a lasting impact. However, it cannot go without saying that these same images may have been washed out in a lesser horror film had it followed the typical storyline format. Director Demián Rugna’s unique approach to storytelling created an action-packed unpredictable tale that makes this movie so recommendable. If you haven’t seen this film before, it’s time. If you have seen it, you’re probably due for a rewatch.
Stream Terrified on Shudder today!
‘M3GAN’ Review: M0th3r Has Arrived
Load up those gifs and ready your fingertips because a new horror icon has landed.
She’s M3gan, but after a viral marketing campaign that had everyone, including your favorite aunt, calling her “Mother,” you already knew that. Directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound), with a story by Malignant duo James Wan and Akela Cooper (who also penned the script), this meme has quite the pedigree. The hype train is real, and while M3GAN does an excellent job at sprinkling in iconic moments and one-liners while maintaining a relatable thematic throughline, it does so at the expense of a compelling plot. Its charm, however, is that despite containing story beats you can clock by watching the trailer, M3GAN is simply too much fun to care.
The film follows newly orphaned Cady (Violet McGraw, a young Daveigh Chase doppelgänger) as she goes to live with her quintessentially millennial aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant roboticist working at a toy company. Parenting does not come naturally to the detached and overworked Gemma. So, in the only way she knows, Gemma pawns off the responsibility of helping Cady cope with the death of her parents – as well as conveniently enacting live-in nanny status – to her passion project, the true to size and pussy bow-clad AI companion M3gan. Her plan works until it doesn’t, and everything goes gloriously haywire. If you think you’ve seen it before, you almost certainly have, but this familiar story is in drag.
Those memes were not a fluke, and she’s here to make it clear: M3gan cuts deep. She knows just what to say to make you second guess everything you’ve ever done, and her one-two punch carries enough whiplash to leave you in a coma or worse. She’s a dancer, a singer, a quadrupedal runner, a killer, and a friend. The film’s fusion of practical effects and CGI brings M3gan to life just short of Avatar photorealism, and voice actor Jenna Davis – no stranger to going viral – has mastered the art of feigned innocence. Gemma, M3gan’s creator and rival, does her best at holding her ground against the doll as they vie for Cady’s affection. Williams has snagged another significant horror role, playing the worst millennial you’ll ever meet (Marnie from Girlsincluded) as the Cindy Lauper of Dr. Frankensteins – she just wants kids to have fun. And while M3GAN is relatively low on actual horror stakes, one scene during the film’s climax sees the pair facing off at the dining table in a moment fraught with genuine tension.
Given that M3GAN’s actual Dr. Frankensteins are behind Malignant and Housebound, it’s no surprise that dark comedy is its greatest asset. It is deadly unserious most of the time. When your grin might begin to lose grip, M3gan sings an acapella lullaby of David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium” or casually flings her latest victim’s ear over her shoulder. The laughs are a mixture of camp, subtle, and satirical. Lazy parenting, suburban living, and the carelessness of technological advancement are all up for grabs, and no collectible toy is safe from Allison Williams’ scissors.
It is to Akela Cooper’s credit that M3GAN can bob and weave through such a riotous tale of a killer doll while not losing focus on its ideas about our unhealthy digital reliance and even poignantly touching upon childhood grief. As if the projectionist accidentally spliced in some Saturday morning cartoons, M3GAN opens with a commercial for the fictional “Purrpetual Petz,” a traditionally annoying toy not unlike Furbys of the 1990s. This idea of a forever companion, whether in the form of an exotic creature, a 4’4” sassy android, or even an iPad, informs our prevalent lack of connection to other humans. Whether used as a means to avoid reality or as parenting by proxy, M3gan is that digital crutch personified. Before you know it, she’s an inseparable “part of the family.” What happens when we lose that connection to our versions of M3gan? If Cady’s actions are anything to go by, we become indignant Veruca Salts of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory fame. Cooper isn’t exaggerating, that’s for sure.
However, this wild ride has pitfalls. If you were to de-drag M3GAN, the film’s bones are that of your stereotypical January throw-away horror flick. There’s no guessing how it will play out – although one of its final scenes does include a nice nod to Aliens – and while I enjoyed myself, I did not leave the theater absolutely gagging as expected. When the action hits its stride, and a lovely needle drop begins the third act, M3GAN does not go as hard as I hoped. I hate to add fire to the flames, but while there are fantastic PG-13 horror films, one as biting as M3GAN deserves a hard R rating. In fact, in a recent LA Times interview, Cooper let the cat out of the bag and said the film had been edited down to PG-13 after its marketing went viral and the suits wanted to cash in on the TikTok crowd. It’s a shame because as M3gan devolves into a sadistic killer, that cold AI side of her gets very dark and twisty.
M3gan’s dark side definitely ponders her existential Westworld fantasy throughout the film’s runtime. While Child’s Play is the obvious comparison point, I could not help but find some Jurassic Park philosophizing in there as well. The unintended consequences of our creations through state-of-the-art technology feel like a not-so-distant reality. We may not see dinosaurs in our lifetime, but Teslas are combusting on the streets as you read this, and we have created innate digital addiction as a disease of the human race. On a macro level, we could bring about the End Times as we are all dramatically slayed by agile android dolls. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Ultimately, M3GAN succeeds in so many ways that it deserves its time in the sun. It may not be the taut techno-thriller of your dreams, but it’s a great way to ring in horror for 2023. Most will know if the film’s humor is for them after one glance at its trailer and marketing, and if you’re on the fence, just dive in. At best, you’ll cackle along with the crowd, and at worst, you’ll probably install one of those screen time management apps on your phone. There is, of course, a wink toward a potential sequel by its conclusion and one unresolved plot thread that would allow a revisit to expand upon the film’s themes in a big way. Plus, there’s the inevitable M3gan/Chucky/Esther/Annabelle pint-sized villain throwdown event the powers-that-be would be fools to ignore.
Spoiler Alert: M3gan would end them.
Make sure you watch the trailer for M3gan below.