Director – Sean Byrne
Cast – Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Shiri Appleby
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I heard great things about The Devil’s Candy but took nine months to give it a watch for two reasons. The first – it looked like a slow burner (based on the teaser I saw) and I wasn’t ever in the mood for one of those. The second – I am what appears to be one of the few individuals on Earth who did not enjoy writer/director Sean Byrne’s previous film, The Loved Ones. After viewing slow-burner A Dark Song I decided to give this one a go and realized I was wrong to sleep on it. The Devil’s Candy is one of the more captivating horror films of the year. Its intro is tremendous, the direction is superb, and its story delivers an experience fitting of its “would thou like to live deliciously”-esque title.
Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry; Late Phases, Cheap Thrills) is a metal head of metal heads. His wife may not be down with the breakdowns, but he has the best partner in crime one could ask for – his daughter. Jesse is a struggling painter whose creative drought and responsibility to make ends meet has left him painting butterflies for a local bank. While the Hellman’s may not have everything, they have spirit, and rock the devil horns whenever possible. When faced with the opportunity to purchase a large rural Texas home they jump at the sweet deal they are given…a deal resulting from the recent deaths of the previous tenants. What was supposed to be a dream home for the young family becomes a gateway to terror when the home’s demonic forces take hold of Jesse. The struggling painter now has a creative vision, but this comes at a heavy cost…and brings with it an unwelcome guest.
Normally I dislike stories where the husband becomes possessed. Typically, the stories follow him lashing out at his family as they stand by in agony. That isn’t the case here. While Jesse does undergo a possession, and yes it affects his family, he is still the loving husband & father he has always been. This is more about his personal struggle with his newfound inspiration, and not just him being a dick to people. Jesse is still very much himself, but the otherworldly forces within him are brewing, growing, and getting stronger. This fresh approach to the possession angle is very much appreciated.
On top of this, I just love stories where an unsuspecting family moves into a home with a dark past. Now, in this case the family is aware that several folks died in the home. What they are unaware of is that the folks died as a result of supernatural happenings. Happenings, that of course could not be proven by the police. The film’s intro explains all of this and it has become one of my favorite horror intros. It isn’t over the top, or even graphic in my opinion. Instead, it is haunting, melodic, and downright captivating. This is even more the case if you grew up playing guitar and metal music.
Byrne’s writing is solid, and I feel his best work is with the Hellman’s and their character play. It is addicting to watch Jesse and his daughter Zooey. They are essentially the same person, and because of that they aren’t just father/daughter but they are best friends. The wife/mother is Astrid, a supporter of her family who also comes with her own charm. She isn’t just a side piece but plays a critical role. Whether it is their struggles, drama, fear, or elation, it all feels real and I cared about them all. They are the focal point of the film, but we do have one more character worth mentioning. There is an unexpected and definitely unwelcome guest that comes to the home. This person, portrayed by horror vet Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity, Jacob’s Ladder) is a compliment to the horror, as the voices taking over Jesse aren’t the only antagonists. One could even argue that they split time with this person as the source of horror in the film. Both elements are executed well, with the unwanted guest serving as the tangible horror and the demons taking things to a psychological level. Blending these elements of horror together makes this more than your usual haunted house / possession film. Again, this is much appreciated.
While the story is good, Byrne’s direction is what really seals the deal. From the get-go he had me captivated. Sound is so important in horror. In this horror experience sound delivers soothing but powerful tones from a Flying V through an overdriven Marshall amp, as well as a whispering demon who can only be drowned out by pushing the amp’s volume knob to level 11. This is a visually striking piece as well. The atmosphere is dark and tranquil, with the sets providing a peaceful ambiance while leaving you hesitant knowing that dark forces lie in wait. Byrne ensures that the paintings erupting from Jesse’s mind are haunting and a display of the demon brewing within him. He achieves a solid performance from Ethan Embry as Jesse, and Pruitt Taylor Vince is as creepy as ever. The supporting characters also hold their own, especially Kiara Gasco as Jesse’s daughter Zooey. This is a film about evil and the demonic forces that promote it, so it is only fitting that the darkest characters shine the most. While most of the horror here is psychological, there are several deaths and at least one of them will hit viewers hard. Byrne doesn’t need to give a full-frontal approach when his direction is so damn good that he can shock you with what occurs offscreen. You will be left to fill in the blanks with the darkness that you yourself have within you.
Overall, The Devil’s Candy is a haunting experience that also makes for one of 2017’s best horror films. Those with a liking towards metal music, demons, and art should give this a watch.
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