Few horror directors make quite the impression on their first kick at the can like Sean Byrne. The Aussie director’s debut effort, The Loved Ones, was critically acclaimed and has earned a cult following. Unfortunately for horror fans, Byrne took nearly six years to craft a follow-up. But it turns out the wait was worth it. Courtesy of IFC Midnight, Byrne’s sophomore effort, The Devil’s Candy, mixed heavy metal sensibilities with a devilishly minimalist approach to its subject matter. With so many movies spinning the same demonic possession story, The Devil’s Candy delighted in challenging audience expectations.
Late one evening, Ray Smilie, an eccentric man struggling with voices in his head, murdered his parents in their isolated farmhouse. Months later, struggling artist Jesse Hellman moves his wife, Astrid, and teenage daughter, Zoey, into the same house. To make ends meet, Jesse sets aside his own artistic vision for bland commission painting jobs. As he struggles with his most recent project, the same voices that plagued Ray Smilie haunt Jesse. And now a recently released Ray begins 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 find themselves in danger.
The Devil’s Candy Offers a Fresh Take on the Demonic Possession Genre
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.
The Devil’s Candy a Treat for Patient Horror Fans
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. Nonetheless, with this second effort, Byrne mixes things up a little from The Loved Ones. And the end result is still a hauntingly good horror movie that should leave most viewers feeling unsettled long after the credits are done rolling. film. Hopefully, we wont’ have to wait as long for Byrne’s next film.
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