The cursed object/careful-what-you-wish-for horror story has been around at least as long as The Monkey’s Paw. This French essay in the subject from writer-director Patrick Ridremont follows such standardised genre offerings as Wish Upon and the Ouija films – but has a much more intricate, ornate and satisfying plot (also, a splendid and enviable central prop). Eva (Eugénie Derouand), a paraplegic ex-dancer, is given an antique advent calendar by her blonde trouble pal Sophie (Honorine Magnier). It’s little surprise when we learn later that the car accident which ended Eva’s career was Sophie’s fault — her casual mention that she stole the calendar from a Munich Christmas Market evokes memories of Peter Cushing’s light-fingered customers in From Beyond the Grave.
Each little locked cupboard in the calendar contains a sweet – from white chocolate baby Jesuses to prosaic After Eight mints – and the instructions are that if Eva eats one she must eat them all, or else ‘Ich’ (a Cenobite-like s-m demonic creature) will kill her. Every sweet brings about a mixed blessing miracle, which means good fortune for Eva (a nice guy in the park suddenly falls for her, her dementia-suffering father has a lucid spell) but bad luck for those who aren’t treating her well (like a boorish businessman who tries to force himself on her or a bigoted boss who fires her). The process of the plot is rigorous, dangling the possibility of a cure in front of the heroine but only at the expense of other people – with a progression from smiting down folks who more or less deserve it to visiting doom upon people Eva cares about.
The protagonist is more genuinely tempted than in most of these stories, not just by the ultimate prize of dancing again but by the possibilities for revenge and malice that come from directing the calendar to do her bidding. Derouand is terrific in the central role, and Ridremont tells the tale with an unfussy charm and elegance that makes this an unusual Christmas horror film – though, of course, it does snow at the end and the story winds in and out of A Christmas Carol in its themes of temptation, redemption and do-overs.