'The Devil's Candy'
Eight years ago, Australian writer/director Sean Byrne delivered an instant cult classic with ‘The Loved Ones’, a movie that finally answered the question: “What would happen if John Hughes had founded the torture porn genre?” Now Byrne finally delivered a follow-up. While it’s got nothing on his debut, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ proves that the guy has talent.
Ethan Embry and Shiri Appleby star as Jesse and Astrid, a lovable metalhead couple raising a teen daughter on the hard stuff (well, music-wise anyway). They’ve recently moved into a big home in the country that was affordable due to some violence in that house’s past. (Whoa… metal…) In keeping with haunted house horror tradition, Jesse finds himself drifting in and out of strange trances in the home. His paintings get even darker than usual and things get strange. Meanwhile, the son of the house’s former owners (Pruitt Taylor Vince) starts hearing demonic voices demanding that he kill children because they’re his candy. (See title.) He slowly works his way toward the house, and there’s no way that can turn out well.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of ‘The Devil’s Candy’ is its terse simplicity. By the time the basics of the premise are set up, the tight 79-minute movie is already half over and ready to gear into climax mode. Byrne doesn’t sacrifice much in his aim for horror minimalism. The characters are far more fleshed out than most lambs to the genre slaughter. (A tattooed and almost unrecognizable Ethan Embry is particularly good.) The visuals are endlessly evocative, moody, doused in shadows, carefully composed, and filled with images that wouldn’t be out of place on most metal covers. The film’s thematic core is strong, dealing with the horrors that parents worry they’ll impart on their children. It’s covered effectively and with sting, but is never overstated. The theme just fits into the vicious little genre yarn that Byrne is weaving without distracting from the thrills or feeling heavy-handed.
The weaknesses of ‘The Devil’s Candy’ spring directly from the strengths. This film is so singularly focused and driven that it can feel a little rushed and thin. There’s little here beyond the obvious, and despite all the expertly mounted scare set-pieces and twists, few surprises. Unlike ‘The Loved Ones’, which preyed upon viewers’ storytelling expectations to pull the rug out from under them whenever possible, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ picks its genre of horror and sticks to it without much variation from the form. It works, but it’s limited in effect because Byrne is limited in ambition.
Still, these complaints are only an issue because the filmmaker has proven that he’s capable of so much in a relatively brief career. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ is a damn fine B-movie that delivers everything promised by this sort of thing, but it may leave you wanting more. On the plus side, you won’t even think about that until this brisk horror movie has had its way with you and the credits are rolling. There’s no time to dwell. The flick delivers the goods too quickly and succinctly for that.
If you want some dirty devilish scares, a hard metal soundtrack, drips of the red stuff, some effective horror metaphors, and little time to think between bouts of sensory assault, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ will deliver what you crave. Considering that it’s an unapologetically entertainment-driven horror film, I guess that means that it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s just a shame it doesn’t do a little more.