The Devil’s Candy (2017)
80 min., rated R.
It took fearless Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne’s “The Loved Ones,” 2012’s comically twisted, balls-to-the-wall gem, a long time to finally see a release and now his follow-up is here. If anyone was brave and lucky enough to see Byrne’s debut, then it gives one an idea of what to expect with “The Devil’s Candy,” a merciless, confidently helmed, and wickedly unnerving horror indie. On the most fundamental level, all a horror film really has to do sometimes is be horrific, and here is a purposefully horrific, tonally pitch-black throat-grabber that focuses on character to make the shocks feel well-earned. A story about a loving family moving into a home with a bloody past superficially holds similarities to other horror films, but that’s about where it ends for Byrne’s film. It combines several horror subgenres to include elements of possession and the serial killer film in a good old-fashioned Faustian tale that crosses into the heart of darkness. If it is a little familiar in certain places, “The Devil’s Candy” is punchy, intensely creepy stuff on the whole.
Metalhead painter Jesse (Ethan Embry) moves wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) into a remote home in Texas. They get a good deal for it and learn why once the realtor has to disclose the deaths of the former owners. “It’s not like Charlie Manson lived here,” he jokes before selling Jesse and Astrid the house. Astrid is anxious about affording a mortgage and Zooey has a hard time adjusting to her new school, but Jesse is about meet bigger problems. Not long after turning the garage into his art studio, he begins painting over his latest commission project with something he has no recollection of creating on the canvas: an upside-down crucifix and fiery flames over children, including his own daughter. Something seems to be flowing through him, and though Jesse loses track of time, he could be painting his most inspired, albeit disturbing, work ever. Does Jesse have a new muse, or could it be leading to something more dangerous? Then, one night, Zooey answers the door to the former owners’ adult son, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who doesn’t hide the fact that he’s very troubled. Astrid and Zooey are a bit more sympathetic, but Jesse tells him to leave, shutting the door in his face. Little does the family know that Ray sees Zooey as his next piece of “candy” to serve up to the Prince of Darkness.
Evocative of a more mature style of horror filmmaking, “The Devil’s Candy” smartly favors ideas and suggestion over explicit violence, at least initially before it has the gall to really shock. In almost all cases, writer-director Sean Byrne knows how far to take things without merely making an exploitation picture. Since the film wades into disturbingly dark territory, it very well could have become too much to take. The implication of Ray’s evil doings is obviously more palatable than seeing everything in graphic detail, but it’s still visceral and, in one instance that follows him spying on two boys playing in a field, even more frightening in a way. Byrne does it again in a startlingly auditory moment where Astrid and Zooey hear something horrible outside in the front of their house and panic. The plotting is potentially standard, but Byrne’s film doesn’t look or sound like other horror films. To read the rest of the review, go to Diabolique Magazine.
Grade: B +