Tag Archives: horror movie review

Hard Candy Christmas

The Advent Calendar

by Hope Madden

Who needs a new Christmas horror story?

I do. Y’all can have your Hallmark romances but give me a little yuletide carnage and I’m filled with holiday cheer.

This Christmas season, writer/director Patrick Ridremont comes through with the Belgian horror The Advent Calendar.

It’s been three years since the accident that put Eva (Eugénie Derouand) in a wheelchair, but it’s still sometimes tough for her to tolerate the ableism and ignorance of those around her. Luckily her bestie Sophie (Honorine Magnier) cheers her with a visit and a gift — an antique wooden advent calendar she picked up in Germany.

There are rules. There is candy. There will be blood. (But there is candy, so how bad can it be?)

The “be careful what you wish for” storyline is as vintage as the ornate and impressive prop, but cursed object horror can be powerful when done well. Ridremont does it well, allowing time for his ensemble to develop their characters. And though the film skirts cliché, Ridremont respects his audience’s ability to keep up. We’re not spoonfed.

Better still, Eva has depth enough as a character that when she finally moves willingly toward doing the wrong thing, you feel her resignation more than her selfishness.

Derouand portrays Eva’s bitterness and longing so clearly that the film never has to bow to montage or flashback. And when the time comes to get spooky, The Advent Calendar delivers.

There’s plenty of blood, but it’s the way it’s meted out that ramps up tensions. We start off with people we’re trained to want to see picked off, but viewer beware: there’s a beautiful mutt in danger here as the cursed object worms its way into Eva’s life.

The FX are not as impressive as the performances, unfortunately, but the creature itself is creepy as hell. Better still, his existence and the origin of the Advent Calendar are left a bit to the imagination. It’s a clever sleight of hand, Ridremont taking advantage of our familiarity with his subgenre when he needs to, while still leaving behind the tangy taste of mystery.

High Tides and Good Vibes

The Beach House

by Hope Madden

An entitled young man and his put upon girlfriend head to his parents’ unused beach house to work some things out. They’re not alone, and I don’t just mean the lovely older couple who’d already made plans to borrow the vacation home.

Writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown sets up a situation that could go a lot of horrifying ways. He builds expectations and it’s up to you to wait and see which ones the film decides to indulge. The path Brown takes meshes terror and science fiction, beauty and body horror.

Noah Le Gros’s Randall is burdened with the privilege of always being wrong, of always making a mess for others to clean up, of always getting away with a sad-eyed apology but never, ever thinking that maybe he shouldn’t be the one making the decisions. Le Gros does an excellent job with the role – Randall isn’t contemptible, he’s just born this way.

Emily (Liana Liberato) is about to start work on an advanced degree in astrochemistry. Lucky thing, that—one of several conveniences The Beach House needs you to accept. But this budget-conscious indie is worth a little suspension of disbelief because, between the performances and the commitment to genre, it delivers a satisfying thrill.

Maryann Nagel provides a fine performance as Jane, the unsuspecting family friend already vacationing at Randall’s parents’ place. Her arc is terrifying because the performance is so compassionate. Likewise, genre favorite Jake Weber offers a heartbreaking turn as Jane’s beloved Mitch, a look-on-the-bright-side kind of guy who is quickly running out of sunshine.

At just about the time Brown digs in with some nasty body horror, he also starts to squander some of the good will he earned in the film’s early going. The action and anxiety of the last half of the picture rely too heavily on trope: a surprise in the basement, a conveniently placed CB, a timely announcement over an AM radio station.

But Brown and Liberato remain true to Emily’s arc, and that creates an intriguing new look at planetary evolution.