The Devil’s Candy was released in the spring of 2017 and has been available on Netflix now for several months. Distributed by IFC Midnight, The Devil’s Candy marks the long-awaited sophomore effort from director Sean Byrne. Horror fans may recall Byrne’s debut film, the fantastic Australian thriller, The Loved Ones. If you haven’t seen The Loved Ones, do yourself a favour and check it out. Once you’ve watched The Loved Ones, head over to Netflix and stream The Devil’s Candy. Follow-up efforts don’t get much better than this one.
The Devil’s Candy opens with the odd Ray Smilie, standing in front of a crucifix on the wall, and playing his electric guitar in the middle of the night. When his mother pulls the plug, Ray explains he was trying to drown out voices in his head. His mother threatens to return him to the hospital, and Ray pushes her down the stairs, killing her.
An undisclosed amount of time later, struggling artist Jesse Hellman moves into the same house with his wife, Astrid, and teenage daughter, Zoey. To make ends meet, Jesse has set aside his own art to take bland commission painting jobs. As he struggles with his most recent project, Jesse begins to hear the same voices that plagued Ray. Recently released from the hospital, Ray is soon creeping around his old home, taking a strange interest in Zoey. As the voices tell Ray to take Zoey for ‘Him’, Jesse and his family soon find themselves in danger.
A Fresh Take on the Demonic Possession Genre
Since its release, I’ve watched The Devil’s Candy a few times now, and I have been consistently impressed by Byrne’s willingness to try new things with a familiar horror staple. You won’t find any lazy story developments or tired tropes in The Devil’s Candy. In fact, Bryne’s screenplay never explicitly mentions demons or The Devil, and the film avoids most of the conventional demonic story-line elements with which we’ve grown accustomed.
…Bryne’s screenplay never explicitly mentions demons or The Devil, and the film avoids most of the conventional demonic story-line elements with which we’ve grown accustomed.
Both Ray and Jesse hear demonic voices in their head. There’s also an upside crucifix motif that appears a few times. Yet most of the demonic elements of The Devil’s Candy are only subtly addressed. Ray, a child murderer, seems to be driven to claim his victims by ‘Him, and refers to the children as ‘His Candy.’ Over the course of the film, as Jesse increasingly falls under the spell of the voices, his artwork begins to include hellish imagery of dead children and his own daughter engulfed in flames.
Are the voices that Jesse hears Ray’s victims? Has he had a premonition of his daughter’s possible fate? Is the house some kind of gateway to Hell? Byrne leaves these questions to the viewer, opting instead to scatter breadcrumb references across the movie. For example, the art gallery that agrees to represent Jesse is called Belial, a reference to a demon from the Hebrew Bible that is often equated with the Devil. The gallery’s proprietor, Leonard, seems to evoke Faustian references, promising Jesse fame and riches. It’s Leonard tempting of Jesse to have another drink that leaves his daughter, Zoey, vulnerable to Ray. But The Devil’s Candy never offers easy answers, preferring to leave much of what is happening to mystery. Not everyone will like this approach but it adds to the story’s mounting suspense and unpredictability.
A Haunting and Disturbing Film That Will Linger
From its opening scene, The Devil’s Candy settles into a haunting and lingering atmosphere. Byrne mixes disturbing imagery and visuals with heavy metal riffs to produce a very unique aesthetic. A sunny park scene with a boy on a swing results in one of the more eerie horror films moments I have seen in a long time. Scenes in Jesse’s workroom as he paints mix shadows and stark colours in a visually arresting manner. Byrne has a unique style that is on full display in The Devil’s Candy and the result is a horror experience where you feel uneasy for much of the movie.
The Devil’s Candy is Anchored by a Strong Emotional Core
Another strong aspect of The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s attention to his characters. Jesse’s relationship with his daughter, Zoey, provides a strong emotional core that anchors the movie amidst its creepy vibe and visuals. It’s a relationship that feels so genuine and real – Byrne gets that audiences will be more frightened if they have some investment with the characters. Ethan Embry brings an excellent mix of intensity and sensitivity to Jesse, while Kiara Glasco impresses as Zoey. Shiri Appleby is sadly underdeveloped and given much less to do as wife, Astrid. And Pruitt Taylor Vince, like the best horror villains, mixes menace with a creeping sadness.
Horror Needs More Sean Byrne
Not all horror fans will appreciate the ambiguity of The Devil’s Candy. Its story leaves much of what happens open to subjective interpretation. Additionally, the scares aren’t of the ‘jump scare’ variety, but more tied to a patient investment in the characters and situations. With this second effort, director Sean Byrne mixes things up a little from The Loved Ones, but the end result is still a hauntingly good horror film. Hopefully, we wont’ have to wait as long for Byrne’s next film.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A