I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.
The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.
While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))
If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.
So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equalled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work. 7/10