'The Devil's Candy'
Six years ago, Australian director Sean Byrne established himself as a film nerd genre director to watch with ‘The Loved Ones’, which played like a John Hughes movie with graphic dismemberment flourishes. The flick became a cult favorite while it was still on the film festival circuit, but took forever to get released theatrically. As a result, it’s not a huge surprise that Byrne went a little more straight in his follow-up effort
With ‘The Devil’s Candy’, the director delivers a horror yarn that skips between genres but never breaks form or breaks out. It’s merely ok, which is a shame because Byrne showed so much more promise than that.
Ethan Embry stars as a heavy metal loving artist who is also a loving husband to his supportive wife (Shiri Appleby) and caring father to his metalhead daughter (Kiara Glasco). They open the film house-hunting while broke, which means that they’re willing to buy a home where a couple recently died (one of old age, the other of suicide) to get a sweet deal. Unfortunately, since they live in a horror movie, that means that the house is all sorts of trouble.
Specifically, their place seems to be haunted. Embry is overwhelmed by a desire to paint dark images from the second he moves in, and the obsession quickly gets the point of neglecting his family. Or maybe the house is some sort of portal to hell given that it’s attracted the son of the dead former residents (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who claims to hear dark voices from the building itself. Or maybe the son is just a murderer they’ve inherited along with the home. Or maybe Embry is on a Jack Torrance journey. Who knows?
Well, Byrne sure knows and eventually so will you (likely before the movie tells you). Byrne approaches the film as a tease to genre fans who’ve seen it all before. He deliberately leads viewers down a variety of false paths, making them unsure of what specific type of horror movie they’re watching. It’s a clever concept that makes a straightforward horror flick slightly less predictable. The only problem is that the path Byrne eventually decides to take is quite possibly the least interesting option. It’s unfortunate because the filmmaker grabs viewers right out of the gate and keeps them uneasy, but by the time he reaches a climax filled with some horrible CGI fire, it’s hard not to feel let down.
Granted, the movie has some charms. The central family is quite well cast, so it’s easy to fall in love with them and get lost in their horrible little adventure. Byrne also knows how to use his camera to manipulate viewers, and delivers a handful of damn good suspense and scare scenes early on. Too bad it all builds toward something so disappointing. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ is fine as a boilerplate average horror movie. If it hadn’t promised more, that might even be somewhat satisfying. Sadly, checks are written that don’t get cashed. By the end, it’s hard to not to feel at least a little cheated.