The Holidays Weren’t So Happy for the Boy in This Haunting, Heartbreaking PSA

A sobering look at family time

Not everyone in the family may have been looking forward to the holiday onslaught, as evidenced by this dark PSA from France. 

Publicis Conseil created the ad, which follows an anxious boy through his home as his family makes last-minute preparations for an impending Christmas dinner. Veterans of PSAs in this genre will recognize common tropes: He alternates between walking like a drone and committing random, passive-aggressive acts of subversion—like taking a cluster of fresh-baked cookies in his hands and smashing them to pieces, or pressing the doors closed on a paper advent calendar after watching his sister painstakingly fold each one open.

Warning: Spot contains suggestions of sexual violence.

Directed by Gang Production's Laurence Dunmore, the pace is set by a slow-moving holiday croon, which seems to grow slower as the tension rises and takes on the contours of a blooming nightmare. The mounting desperation of the boy, coupled with the contrasting cheer of his family, only makes things worse: The palpable joy in the air lends the impression that he's a moving figurant in an alternate universe.

Then, the doorbell rings. Our boy stands stock-still, facing imminent doom. It doesn't take much to know what he's afraid of, and we don't need a face to sense the waking malice of the monster who could be lurking on the other side of the door. 

The ad closes with the following copy: "Not all kids are excited about Christmas day. 75% of sexual violence against children happens in the family." 

The work, for the International Association of Victims of Incest (AIVI), went live on Dec. 23 across an array of French networks, supported online by the hashtag #combattrelinceste ("combat incest"). In a season rife with merry, flagrantly commercial holiday spots, the ad's darkness was particularly rare (although at least one other organisation took advantage of recent festivities to raise awareness for spousal abuse).

Incest, being an especially ugly topic in the Annals of Awful Things Humans Do, doesn't get much play in the commercial space—barring Game of Thrones—and it isn't often you see a boy used in this context. Most abuse pieces focus on the plight of women and girls, which makes our young protagonist's silence that much more understandable … and all the more chilling.