THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN LIMITED SPOILERS
A Misanthropic Evening
I felt like watching a horror movie tonight. It was a long week and I had no desire to do anything that would involve interaction with another human being. It’s been several weeks since I’ve seen a horror flick, so I decided to remedy that dry spell. After thirty seconds of looking through the iTunes rental selection, I landed on The Devil’s Candy. I knew absolutely nothing about this movie, which is really the best prep you can have for an optimal horror experience. Let’s talk about it.
The movie starts out with a portly guy named Ray monotonously strumming his Marshal-amplified electric guitar in the middle of the night. He hears disturbing voices (similar to the black speech of Sauron) and it’s clear by his demeanor that Ray is slightly disturbed himself. His mother comes to check on him… Let’s just say it doesn’t end well for her. Ray flees the house.
With Ray unaccounted for, the house goes up for sale. Jesse, a struggling artist, his wife Astrid, a hairdresser and their teenage daughter Zoe purchase the home. Money is tight and they’re only able to afford it because of the substantial “murder” discount. We soon learn that Jesse has had to somewhat compromise his artistic aims in order to make ends meet. Despite the family’s financial constrictions, the new property steers Jesse back towards his more fulfilling, but less marketable, dark impulses.
Entranced by the haunting energy of his new home, Jesse spends hours locked inside his studio. The voices that plagued Ray soon infiltrate Jesse’s head. He becomes so obsessed with his new work that he forgets to pick up Zoe from school on time. Astrid walks in on Jesse’s artwork and is horrified by its disturbing content. The painting shows a demonic beast consuming children, one of which is their daughter. Jesse explains that he hears the children crying out and he doesn’t know how to free them. Astrid wants him to destroy the painting, but Jesse refuses. The painting is an omen and it must be finished.
In case you haven’t seen the movie and want to, I won’t go into too much detail as to where the movie goes from that point on. Ray comes back into the picture. We learn that Ray has a habit of savagely murdering children on behalf of Satan. Ray becomes obsessed with capturing Zoe, the sweetest of the Devil’s candy. Determined to not let the painting’s grim prophecy become reality, Jesse and Astrid go into feral parenting mode in order to save their daughter from the Devil’s minion.
Writing & Characterization
I wasn’t familiar with writer/director Sean Byrne’s previous film The Loved Ones before I watched The Devil’s Candy. He hasn’t made a movie since the subject of this review (which was released in 2015). I think he needs to come out of hibernation and return to public life. The writing and direction of this movie were top notch. The three main characters were immensely likable and the warmth of their bond was palpable.
Ethan Embry plays Jesse. The scenes of him painting are pure electricity. He’s completely shredded and shirtless while he paints. His tattoos and chiseled frame are perfect for his role. Embry gives Jesse the weed zen of an artist with the hard edge of a metalhead. The relationship between Jesse and Zoe, played by Kiara Glasco, is one of the movie’s high points. It wounded me to see the disappointment on Zoe’s face when Jesse forgets to pick her up from school. The mere possibility that their relationship might be damaged upset me, which is a testament to the writing and the actors’ performances.
Glasco is probably the movie’s best performer. There is a scene where she is tied up and has to find a way to escape a precarious situation. The physical acting she does in this film, especially in the movie’s second half, is impressive and completely believable. Child actors, particularly in horror movies, are prone to overacting, but Glasco toes the line between hyperbole and lifelessness perfectly. There are pivotal scenes where the audience needs to believe that Zoe is petrified and Glasco delivers beautifully.
Shiri Appleby’s Astrid is adequate, but nothing special. She gets much less screen time than the other actors. Pruitt Taylor Vince plays Ray. I’ve seen him in many movies and the poor guy probably gets frustrated that he can’t land anything besides serial killer roles (Identity). Nevertheless, he’s quite effective in this movie. Byrne doesn’t give him much dialogue, which forces Vince to do the bulk of his acting with body language. There’s a moment when Ray transforms from a bumbling creep to a maniacal psychopath and Vince handles this transition skillfully. He doesn’t turn into a completely new character, instead he just peels back the onion of Ray’s rotting psyche and fully manifests the evil core at its center. It’s not a possession. We know it’s still Ray, which makes it unnerving.
The soundtrack to this movie was absolutely phenomenal. While there were standard horror orchestral sections during suspenseful scenes, the rest of the soundtrack is almost entirely metal, which is amazing. My only complaint about the soundtrack has to do with the end credits. For some reason, Byrne chose to play Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. For a movie about the Devil eating children, the end titles obviously should have played to Slayer’s Hell Awaits.
The technical elements in this movie were well executed. The cinematography was desolate without being bland. I really sensed an authentic Texan atmosphere here. As I said before, the scenes of Jesse painting are some of the film’s emotional high-points. Byrne uses quick cuts to create a hypnotic montage of madness. The convergence of the images is the perfect visualization of a tainted mind. The special effects are mostly limited to fire. CGI fire can be quite off-putting, its use in this movie was well-done. There is a scene where Zoe’s bedroom is on fire and three different characters are all engulfed by flames. It’s obvious the flames are CGI, but in a good way. It creates a dream-like atmosphere that’s mesmerizing and doesn’t have an artificial quality to it.
In terms of makeup effects, there isn’t much to talk about. This movie isn’t about over-the-top gore. It’s about slow-building dread. The scenes of Ray’s pursuit of Zoe were genuinely suspenseful. Thankfully, this movie refused to rely on jump-scares. The anticipation I felt never revolved around what was going to jump out at ME, it came from the danger that I perceived the CHARACTERS to be in.
I really enjoyed The Devil’s Candy. The production values seemed significantly more robust than the average IFC movie. The characters were believable, likable, funny and compassionate. Astrid and Jesse are pot-smoking, hippy parents that live a somewhat unorthodox lifestyle, but Byrne introduces us to them in such a way that the audience sees them as great parents that love the hell of their daughter. In the wrong hands, this could have been botched. If that familial bond weren’t believable, the movie would have failed.
I did have a slight issue with the abruptness of the ending. Jesse uncovers a minor revelation about Ray’s activities and the movie immediately ends. The film had been building up to a major revelation. It’s like one of those times when your partner is just about to come but you blow your load. Unfortunately, I was the one who didn’t quite get there this time.
RATING: ΩΩΩ (Good)
Ω – PAINFUL – Suffering through this was cruel and unusual punishment.
ΩΩ – I’VE HAD BETTER – This didn’t rock my world but it was better than a nut tap.
ΩΩΩ – GOOD – My life was enriched because of this.
ΩΩΩΩ – TANTRIC ORGASM – I will trade my soul for more of this.