Every week, new original films debut on Netflix and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.
The premise: Aspiring photographer Abby is unlucky in both her professional life and her love life. She also hates Christmas! But things begin to change when her grandfather gives her a magical advent calendar that predicts the future. (Go with it!) With the calendar’s guidance, will Abby finally be able to follow her dreams?
What it’s about: The Holiday Calendar comes as part of Netflix’s apparent holiday strategy of duplicating the Hallmark Christmas movie template in as many movies as possible in the wake of last year’s A Christmas Prince and its runaway, semi-ironic success.
Accordingly, like the best Hallmark Christmas movies, Netflix’s newest entry into the genre offers a charming and snow-frosted small town; a heroine played by an actress of moderate teen show fame (Kat Graham of The Vampire Diaries) with a quirky but unthreatening profession (she’s a photographer); a whimsical and ambiguously supernatural wild card (magic calendar!); and a love story so generic that it is the romantic equivalent of Cheezums brand snack crackers.
Graham plays Abby, who dreams of becoming a “real” photographer and making the kind of art that feeds her soul, but instead pays her bills working at a portrait studio. She is also single, despite the heart eyes that her best friend Josh (Quincy Brown) is constantly making in her direction.
But then! Abby’s beloved grandfather (Ron Cephas Jones, slumming it) gives her an old-fashioned wooden advent calendar. Behind each door is a Christmas-themed figurine, and Abby soon realizes that the figurine for each day predicts that day’s events. Could the calendar be magic???
As the film progresses, Abby finds herself torn between Josh and a too-good-to-be-true doctor (Ethan Peck), who is communicative about his feelings and immediately asks her out instead of being passive-aggressive and relying on subtext, so obviously he can’t be the one for her.
Will Abby make the correct romantic decision? Will that decision inevitably lead to her achieving all of her personal and professional goals and dreams? With the magic calendar on her side, how could it not?
The Holiday Calendar is the kind of aggressively formulaic movie that Hallmark built its brand on. For this kind of movie, the formula is a feature, not a bug: It’s what makes a story feel cozy and worn-in, like a holiday classic you’ve already seen five times before you ever watch it.
Still, The Holiday Calendar lacks the bonkers throw-all-the-tropes-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks verve of A Christmas Prince (at no point in The Holiday Calendar is anyone menaced by a wolf). It’s a more restrained, grounded movie than its predecessor — which, ultimately, means it loses some of the candy-coated glee that made A Christmas Prince such a buzzed-about so-bad-it’s-good hit.
What’s worse, it doesn’t replace that glee with anything specific enough to be interesting in its own right. It’s still silly and disposable and comforting, but it’s not quite the kind of movie that 53 people are going to watch every day for 18 days in a row.
Critical consensus: As of press time, there weren’t quite enough reviews for this one to establish a critical consensus. By which I mean there was one other review, from the entertainment website Ready, Steady, Cut!. They didn’t love it.
Where to watch: The Holiday Calendar premieres on Netflix on November 2.