Last week, Shudder released Patrick Ridremont’s sophomore feature The Advent Calendar (2021). Equal portions holiday and horror movie, The Advent Calendar centers on Eva (Eugénie Derouand), a paraplegic former dancer who received an old German advent calendar for Christmas. What at first seems like a fun novelty gift soon emerges as a twisted game where Eva has the chance to regain the ability to walk if she eats all the chocolate from the calendar, no matter the twisted or deadly results.
I had the chance to sit down with Ridremont last week the day after The Advent Calendar premiered. Ridremont is Belgian and has been a working actor, primarily in French-language film and television, since the early 1990s. He has also carved out a corner of animated voice-work, lending his talents to critically acclaimed films such as The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and A Cat in Paris (2010). We chatted about his new film, his career, horror inspirations, and what he hopes to do in the future.
The following conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
DEVIN: So your movie has been on my mind because my parents sent me an advent calendar this week.
PATRICK: Ah! What’s in it?
Just chocolate, but every time I open it I kind of stop and wonder if there will be a demon this time around.
So right off the bat, I wanted to jump in and ask where the idea for The Advent Calendar came from. How did you develop it?
So there are two ideas. The first idea was to make a horror movie, and then the second idea was to make a horror movie about the advent calendar. I did a horror movie because I was just working on a comedy. I wrote a screenplay, and I was about to be the director. But it was really hard with famous actors, bankable actors. What they wanted to be paid, when they wanted to be paid to, and blah bah blah. It took close to one year just talking with one person and their agents that I said, ‘Okay, I don’t want to make that comedy anymore.’ I want to do something with young actors, and maybe not famous actors, people that want to play. Soldiers of the screen.
I’m a fan of horror movies, so I was looking at what movies I love. I love horror movies with an object. So I was looking for an object. And my stepsister loves, like you, advent calendars. And every time she received a calendar if there are chocolates in it— did you? Did you eat all the chocolates? Did you follow the rule? [Ed. note: One of the rules in the movie is not to miss a day of advent, or else…]
I mean, we’re working on it. I haven’t eaten today’s chocolate though so I need to get on that.
[laughs] Okay. But every time she gets a calendar, she opens all the windows on the first of December. So you have 24 candies. I was looking at that and said, ‘Okay, this is not fair, this should have rules for that calendar, easy to understand.’ Only open one a day each day. So follow that rule. But what happens if you don’t want the calendar? You won’t really want to sell it on eBay or to give that present back to someone. So what do you want to do? Throw it away? Fuck, this is another rule [about not throwing the calendar away]. So I was thinking about a calendar with rules, but bad rules because it will be a horror movie. That’s how it was born. My stepsister.
So a family affair.
Getting a little more big picture, as you were talking about the development process, you touched on working with “soldiers of the screen”, which I love as a phrase. With that in mind, I was incredibly taken by Eugénie Derouand’s performance as Eva. I’m wondering how you found her and what it was like to work with her.
I didn’t want to make a movie with famous actors because when they are famous, you don’t care about the way they are acting. It’s about fame. You know that you will have millions of people looking at them. But when you’re not working with bankable actors, they have to be really good. You know, that’s the first thing [studios and producers] say, ‘Okay, they’re not famous, but they must be good. So I think, ‘Okay, unknown, but fucking good.’
So we saw many, many, many girls to play [Eva]. Close to 100. And [Derouand] was the one from the beginning. We had three waves of casting and she was already there in the first wave but it looked too easy. We kept going just in case there’s someone after. And after a second wave, there was someone good, but not as good. And so we asked her urgently to come back. And she was definitely the one. And we showed her to the studios and they all said, ‘Well, that’s her.’ It was obvious. We didn’t want no one else.
So that’s the way we found that, and that’s a fantastic actress. I was a little bit afraid of actresses from Paris, you know, I’m from Belgium and not from France, we are a little bit less snobbish, or you know, we are easygoing, and they have that reputation of being sometimes a little bit ‘Oh my God, PARIS!’ In her mind, she was not from Paris, she was really a soldier of the screen. She was the character, and she was wonderful.
She really was. So you have your story and you have your lead, and then you have to direct the movie. Were there any holiday or horror movies you spent time with to prepare for directing? Anything you were looking to draw on?
I think it’s not one movie in particular, but rather every movie I’ve seen. This is an advent calendar, so there are 24 candies and sort of 24 different little movies or scenes with different inspirations.
I love the Fritz Lang movie M (1931). Also Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), so there are shadows on the wall sometimes in my movie like Nosferatu. And I love Christopher Nolan’s movies. Especially Inception (2010) or even Interstellar (2014). There’s a scene I didn’t really understand but really liked in Interstellar when [Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy] are looking through a bookshelf. There is a scene that looks like that in my movie when [Derouand] looks through a mirror and watches what happened the day before. I was inspired by all the things I watched. Oh! Though there is an author I love above all: I’m a big fan of Stephen King. I think there may be some kind of Stephen King in some scenes.
I just generally love to watch horror movies when the bad guy is not a guy, when it is something from somewhere else or is an entity. I love A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) with, you know, Freddy Krueger because he’s not really human. He is something different that comes into your dreams or your nightmare to kill you. I love that kind of story. Because it doesn’t exist at all. I hope.
First off, as a Mainer who idolizes Stephen King, I love to hear how much you vibe with him. But more importantly, since you again touched on the kinds of monsters and sources of evil you like, I’d love to hear how Ich, the demon associated with the calendar in your movie, came about. How did you design it and imagine it?
Okay, the first thing I looked for: where does that advent calendar come from? It was born in Germany from a 19th-century German priest. Okay, good. This is a good start. German. Whoa, German horror is good. You know? I think so [Ed. note: Reader, it is good].
Then the question was, what is the demon? What is it? Where does it come from? I didn’t have all the answers. So I think about the priest and have to invent a backstory. That backstory is about a German soldier priest during World War One who loves advent calendars. He was fighting well, not with a gun, but with his cross, closer at the border between France and Germany. It’s around Christmas and he’s making a calendar for the soldiers, writing letters and little notes. But it was a bad, bad, bad war, and he died. Well, he nearly died: exploded. His face was ripped by a bomb. And then God, or the other one, the Devil, comes to him and says, ‘Okay, I can give you eternity if you want to.’ The priest says yes, and the Devil tells him he can put him in the first advent calendar forever so he can always be giving to people, but of course, it ends up being more evil.
In the design, if you watch it clearly, you will see that he is wearing the dress of a priest, he has a cross around his neck, and he has a mask. And that mask is a gas mask of the German army of World War One. So everything makes sense. This is the way it was born.
I missed the gas mask, but it makes so much sense. I appreciate you walking through that. Circling back on your background experience going into sifting through the story, the cast, and crafting Ich, I’m wondering how your acting experience influences your approach to making movies. Particularly as a director.
My experience makes things easier on set as a director because you know how young actors think. I used to be young [laughs]. I know how actors want to be. They want to have security from the director. So I know that I know that. But I also know that during shooting, the actors are not my main problem. They are one of the two million problems I have. But you have to take care of so many things, the animals, the light, the sound, everything. So it makes things easy because I know how to speak to actors. I hate when directors don’t have the right words. When they say ‘Could you make it a bit more?’ or ‘Let’s try something cool and do it again.’ So with the actors, I knew that I had to find good words and sometimes not to be too kind. Don’t think about the script once you’re on set. Your body knows what you’re playing. Get into the swimming pool, and just let the water do the rest.
Now that The Advent Calendar is out, what’s next for you? Do you want to direct more, go back to acting, or something else entirely?
The interest that journalists are showing for my movie is something I didn’t meet in my own country. It’s not even broadcast in Belgium. It’s broadcast in France, but all the interviews were not that passionate. I love the question you’re asking. So what I really want is to make the next one in English, maybe a remake of [The Advent Calendar]. You know? I’m in, I’m fucking in. That’s what I want. I want to direct another movie. I’m past 50 years old, so looking at my face on a big screen, it’s not what I want. I want you to see other people’s faces on the big screen because I should film them.
Fingers crossed it happens. And now, my last question is what I love to end interviews with. What is something you’ve seen recently that you would recommend?
Another Round (2020). Even the trailer. If you have two minutes, just watch the trailer. It’s already a movie, a fucking good movie.