‘The Devil’s Candy’ Blasts Genre Thrills and the Devil’s Music Into Your Heathen Soul
The director of ‘The Loved Ones’ returns with another intense and suspenseful thriller.
Writer/director Sean Byrne’s debut feature, The Loved Ones, blew festival audiences (including us) away back in 2009 with thrills and suspense born from seeing a character we truly cared about fighting for his life against increasingly twisted and violent odds. It took three years before it actually opened in the US, but it was worth the wait. Now Byrne’s equally intense follow-up film is finally being released… after premiering at film fests nearly two years ago.
Once again though, The Devil’s Candy is a blistering, intimate, heavy metal-tinged horror/thriller worth waiting for as it drops a loving family into a devilish nightmare where each violent chord brings them closer to a grim and grisly fate.
Jesse (Ethan Embry), Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) leave the cramped hustle and bustle of urban apartment life behind and move into a remote farm house offering all the space they could possibly want. The barn becomes Jesse’s art studio for his paintings, and the lack of neighbors means he and Zooey can express their love for heavy metal tunes as loud as possible – unlike its inclusion in most horror films where it’s used to connect with the devil, here a shared love for head-banging binds a father and daughter together. They know the house came cheap because the previous owners died there, but the shifty realtor neglects to mention one detail – the elderly couple was murdered by their unstable son Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince).
Ray hears a voice in his head telling him to do terrible things, and the only sound that drowns it out is the amplified thrashing of an electric guitar. It’s not long before Jesse starts hearing the same voice, and as he channel’s its verbal undulations into a new, nightmarish painting he and his family find themselves in immediate danger.
Crazy Ray is heading back home again.
Byrne accomplishes a lot in a tight 90 minutes as he introduces the family, reveals the approaching danger, and builds it towards an intense crescendo of fiery violence. The film’s horrific elements are a double-barreled blast of demonic influence – there’s an Amityville Horror-like vibe at times as Jesse’s behavior grows worrisome – and a human madman. Both add to the film’s atmosphere, but it’s the latter that leads to the film’s most terrifying sequences as Ray is a truly frightening character.
Vince gives a disturbingly effective performance in part because his killer is no brilliant, well-spoken tactician like any number of cinematic serial killers. Instead he’s a blunt tool wielded by madness and possibly the devil himself to commit unspeakable acts of terror. He moves through obstacles like a death-dealing bull in a flesh & bone china shop leaving only wet and screaming carnage in his wake.
The various and plentiful genre beats are executed beautifully throughout and punctuated with man-made slaughter and satanic touches, but as is true of The Loved Ones Byrne’s greatest strength here is in creating a protagonist (or three) that viewers desperately want to see survive. Too often horror films invest all of their energy into the darkness – the killer, the gore, the acts of terror – but Byrne gives equal time and attention to the light.
He’s aided by a trio of actors who feel immediately as if they’re actually the close and loving family they’re portraying. Their chemistry, particularly between Embry and Glasco, convinces without question leaving viewers certain of their love for each other. That visible connection adds emotional weight to the trial by blood and fire that they’re all about to face, and our very real concern only amplifies the already strong elements of suspense and tension. Embry’s often shown an ability to find the human pain in his characters, and he shines here as a study in conflicts – he’s a ripped and tattooed head-banger, but even as the devil whispers demands and promises in his ear Jesse’s fierce love for his family refuses to go down without a fight.
It’s an intense thrill-ride, but Byrne and his crew – including cinematographer Simon Chapman, editor Andy Canny, and composers Mads Heldtberg & Michael Yezerski – ensure it’s also an attractive one too. We see Ray approach through a blood red, stained-glass cross, a montage of blood and paint binds the differing kinds of human art, and the score and song selections drive us unrelentingly onward towards the unknown.
Great horror films come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, but sometimes the best ones leave you feeling as if you’ve barely survived the terror alongside the character(s)… or at least come close. The Devil’s Candy gets that and plunges viewers into the abyss with little chance of escape but an abundance of hope. The things we value often require sacrifice, or to put in the parlance of our heavy metal friends to the north…
“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”
(Barenaked Ladies, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”)
Related Topics: Horror