The Devil's Candy
Directed by Sean Byrne. Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tony Amendola, Craig Nigh, Leland Orser, Oryan West, Richard Rollin, Marco Perella. (2017, NR, 79 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 21, 2017
Here’s more proof – if any were needed – that the Lord of Lies loves extra-heavy, metal machine music, and is something of an art prodigy and all-around Luciferian muse. A trim running time, snipped down from its 90-minute festival print, renders Sean Byrne’s second feature a queasy, moment-by-moment descent into hell. Ostensibly a demonically haunted house horror show, The Devil’s Candy actually subverts that genre’s expected conventions by adding a serial killer twist and, yes, tracks by Slayer, Metallica, and PJ Harvey. Ultimately, though, it’s all about family. (Shot just north of Austin in Williamson County, there’s a whiff of the saw here, sans chain.)
Embry (Cheap Thrills) is Jesse Hellman, an aspiring artist and committed metalhead who moves his family into a beautiful rural Texas farmhouse. Initially, all seems to be perfect for Jesse, wife Astrid (Appleby), and tween daughter Zooey (Glasco) – the latter of whom has inherited her father’s love of Marshall amps and Gibson Flying Vs – until the home’s former resident, the hulking, patently insane Ray (Vince) shows up saying he “needs to come home.” Pretty soon, Jesse’s hearing things and staying up all hours painting decidedly creepy pictures in the barn while neighborhood kids go missing.
Byrne’s The Loved Ones was a surreal familial trip itself, but here he dispenses with any of the Rob Zombie-esque humor that characterized his first film. This film begs the question: Is art a conduit for madness or vice versa, and could they both be viral, or could it be … Satan? Embry, unsurprisingly, completely inhabits the role of Jesse, who’s all sweaty, begrimed artist-seer (in the Texas summer heat, no less) when he’s not driving his daughter to school in the family beater or blacking out and painting horrific things in the barn. Likewise, Glasco and Appleby make this a totally believable family unit, which, of course, only ups the ante on the mounting dread. There are blood-red visual motifs all over the place, but The Devil’s Candy isn’t particularly bloody in and of itself. It suggests acts of terrible evil far more than it shows, and is all the more intense for it. Highly recommended.