“The Devil’s Candy,” is an enthusiastic horror movie from Tasmanian director Sean Byrne of 2015’s critically lauded “The Loved Ones.”
Here he takes a different approach to the genre sacrificing the blood and guts of his inaugural work and replacing it with atmosphere and art direction. The result isn’t as heavy-handed as most supernatural thrillers, but it deserves a look if only to see the potential this director will surely showcase in the future.
This story involves the Hellman’s, a family of free spirited parents and their teenage daughter who buy a home in a remote part of the Texas countryside.
The real estate agent under legal abide must inform them that a killing took place in the home’s history, which is played out in the film’s opening sequence, but he offers no other details.
Not able to pass up the great price, they move into the house even though it’s much further from the bustle of town than the mother is comfortable.
This is an unfortunate decision because the original killer Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is still wandering around town hearing the devil chant ancient scripture in his head which he can only squelch by playing loud guitar riffs and killing children.
He makes his way back to his old house to torment the family while dad is trying to figure out the reason he’s having blackouts resulting in some truly disturbing but masterful artwork.
The Devil’s Candy isn’t a jump scare, she-crawled-out-of-the-TV shocker, rather Bryne takes his time to give all of his crew a chance to showcase their works especially his male lead Jesse (Ethan Embry) suffering through displacement, artistic struggles and father/daughter bonding.
Their daughter Zooey played by Kiara Glasco is right at her rebellious stage, but really has nothing to challenge since her parents are already more accepting than most.
Dad is a struggling artist with plenty of unappreciated ideas while mom Astrid (Shiri Appleby) seems to be doing her own thing and for some reason can never pick their daughter up from school; that responsibility falls on dad and sometimes he can’t get that right.
The director probably won’t fault me for pointing out his male lead has an uncanny resemblance to Matthew McConoughey, or moreso, the Anglo-centric countenance of Jesus Christ. And it makes sense if you appreciate the good versus evil subtly (And not so subtle; the dad’s name is Jesse Hellman) of the storyline.
Jesse has to go from unbathed, acrylic stained conceptualist to a confused family man haunted by unsettling visions. He’s also trying to protect his family from Ray Smilie dressed in a red tracksuit who is stalking his daughter with malintent and a large pruning saw.
All of this tension is excellently portrayed through Embry, just as the race for Ray to abduct his daughter, there too is an urgency on figuring out why he’s suddenly having visions and painting demons over butterflies.
The daughter, it would seem, is a bit of a social outcast, favoring acid metal and vintage hard rock over anything else. She’s integral to the plot and has a rather taut scene involving duct tape, but this is Embry’s movie and Byrne knows that’s where his spotlight should remain.
Unlike the director’s torture porn debut The Loved Ones, where the horror comes from sociopaths reveling in the art of mutilation, humiliation, and cannibalism, The Devil’s Candy takes the opposite approach wherein cinematography, art direction and tone almost serve as the director’s reel and effectively tell viewers that there might be nothing he can’t tackle with horrific appeal.
In The Loved Ones, Byrne gave homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with his use of kitchen wallpaper patterned after the Overlook’s iconic carpeting.
Here his references are left to his lead’s devices. Embry must channel some essence of Jack Torrance for Byrne to make the connection. Perhaps this is a tribute not only to Kubrick, but Nicholson.
Although “The Devil’s Candy” isn’t going to give you nightmares, it’s clear with each carefully framed shot and Embry’s performance, Byrne is the maestro behind the podium conducting every section of things with an able and steady hand. And everyone watching the baton is in pitch-perfection of their part.
Coming away from “The Devil’s Candy,” I was left wondering which I was more excited about; Byrne’s next directorial work or Embry’s next role.
“The Devil’s Candy” is a stylish thriller directed by someone who obviously runs a tight ship.