A family of three move into a quaint rural home that was once the site of a double homicide, perpetrated at the hands of a man (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who hears the voice of the devil in his head.
Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), father and husband, is a contract painter and metalhead. He’s a young-at-heart, hippie-looking pot smoker who hates painting flowers for banks. And he also picked the wrong house to move into.
Sean Byrne, whose directorial debut The Loved Ones provided an intriguing new spin on the torture porn genre of horror, returns with The Devil’s Candy, an intriguing take on the haunted house genre of horror. Neither film sets out to be groundbreaking, but both offer something energetic and fresh in a genre dominated by the lackluster and rehashed.
Sound design is the most prominent feature of The Devil’s Candy. It is heavy on the heavy metal, but in a way that is narratively motivated and perpetually dreadful. Dreadful, of course, in a good way. A chunking, open-string chord rumbles in a sickeningly slow rhythm as Vince’s ironically named Ray Smilie tries to drown out the voices in his head.
Screaming solo licks jump in every so often to relieve the tension, but even this fades away, leaving the most isolated sounds to play in the same deliberate rhythm. The ticking of a clock. The dinging of a bell. The underlying pace moves the film sonically in a spine-tingling way.
The camera, at times, mimics this pace or attempts to produce a similar feeling of dread. Motific shots of inverted crosses, a shot of a mentally broken man shown refracted through a fishbowl. Shots like these paint interesting portraits, and whenever they bubble to the surface the film transcends beyond the generic expectations that come with a VOD horror product.
The Devil’s Candy is a story of obsessive compulsion brought on by preternatural forces. While the initial interplay between psychological and supernatural possibilities dissipates pretty quickly, leaving a more straightforward Satanic narrative, the stylistic representation of the narrative is enough to make up for the simplicity.
Embry is perhaps the biggest draw of the film. His character fading in and out of reality, Embry’s performance is heightened without becoming cartoonish. Vince also plays a cringing baddie, which is not surprising given his history in these roles.
Shiri Appleby and Kiara Glasco round out the main cast with equally strong performances, although their characters are given much less to do. Glasco’s daughter Zooey, in particular, is relegated to a damsel in distress role that feels out of place in a film that toys with conventions so well.
The film is a worthy follow up to The Loved Ones, a step in the right direction for Byrne as a director. It is not quite the next big cult horror phenomenon, but it delivers enough style to make it worth seeking out.
The Devil’s Candy: B
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)