The Devil’s Candy Treads on Familiar Ground, But Succeeds in Execution (Review)
The Devil’s Candy delves into several familiar horror tropes and conventions, but is effectively realized enough to make it a worthwhile experience for genre fans.
I’ve talked about horror tropes several times writing for Loud and Clear. I’ve talked about the unstoppable force hunting down young people, young people sneaking into abandoned places they should not be, young city dwellers going out to the country and bad things happening, disposable teenagers who are only there to sate the audience’s bloodlust; basically, many different flavors of young people in peril. Well, today I get to write about another horror trope, one I’ve yet to discuss at length for this website: the naive family moving into an evil house. Again, we have, here, a well-trodden genre trope, but just because the trope is common doesn’t mean that it can’t be great: James Wan’s The Conjuring is a familiar haunted house story, but it’s so well done that it’s one of my favorite horror films of the 2010s. The film in question, this time ‘round, is Sean Byrne’s 2015 effort, The Devil’s Candy.
The Devil’s Candy focuses on the Hellman family: Jesse (Ethan Embry), a painter and enthusiastic heavy metal fan who shares his musical tastes with his daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), and Astrid (Shiri Appleby), who, while not sharing her husband’s and daughter’s taste in music, is nonetheless a loving and supportive wife and mother. After moving into a new home in rural Texas, they learn of the house’s troubled past as Jesse begins to succumb to the house’s evil, and Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vance), a former occupant, comes home.
The Devil’s Candy plays the haunted house trope very faithfully, which can be a risky move in modern horror: though this can also lead to some less-than-great results, many of the best new films in the genre typically try to find a way to subvert audience expectations by implementing clever twists on tropes, or introducing new elements or depth to established conventions. But while The Devil’s Candy doesn’t try anything too fancy, its focus instead lies in telling a compelling story through this particular narrative. And lo-and-behold, it does a commendable job!
This is another movie that shines brightest in writing and characterization: the plot moves between Jesse’s descent into madness and it’s affecting his family, and Ray’s dark deeds, sharing in Jesse’s mania. It’s left vague if these characters are literally possessed or if it’s meant to be more symbolic, but the script and actors work together to create interesting characters with logical and coherent motivations. It’s also paced really well: for such a short movie (under 90 minutes), I was worried that the plot would feel rushed or incomplete, but The Devil’s Candy tells a full and thorough story that delivers a gripping and satisfying conclusion. If I had to give some criticism to the writing, I do wish Jesse’s actual “possession” had more focus and consequences. This might be a personal preference, but I think Byrne could have unpacked that a little more and made some spooky and heady sequences.
Another thing that really works is how The Devil’s Candy withholds a lot of its gore, implying violence and encouraging the audience to fill in the gaps with their imaginations. By doing this, it accomplishes two things: first, once the few bloody scenes actually arrive, they’re more effective by comparison, since you haven’t yet been desensitized to that kind of thing. Second, though there is violence against children in the story, through the power of implication and suggestion, it is effectively portrayed as the diabolical evil that it is instead of being so vulgar and tasteless that it makes you feel gross for watching (Them should be taking notes).
Most of The Devil’s Candy’s filmmaking is adequate, and while there is not too much I would consider to be noteworthy, I would like to commend the sound design and editing. The soundscape is woven into the film by combination of diegetic and otherworldly sounds, reflecting the turmoil in Jesse and Ray’s heads, as you, too, begin to question what is real and what isn’t within the film’s world. On top of that, the soundtrack is great: original pieces created by drone metal band Sunn 0))) (yes, that’s their name, that wasn’t a typo) compliment the characters’ metal aesthetic while staying true to the needs of the movie. The Devil’s Candy also puts in other famous songs that also both make sense for the film’s world and are thematically appropriate: the first shots of Jesse are accompanied by Diamond Head’s famous track “Am I Evil?”, which perfectly encapsulates the film’s thesis.
There is, however, one major piece of criticism I have to give The Devil’s Candy’s technical side, and it’s an issue I’ve definitely talked about before: night shots are WAY too dark. Ugh, I know, ANOTHER horror movie with inadequate lighting during dark scenes. Like, I just reviewed It Follows, a horror movie that handles its darkness in a creatively satisfying way while still effectively conveying the idea of darkness. It was such a disappointment to see an otherwise solid film fall into this same ditch several others have. Again, I understand that darkness is a tool that can be devastatingly effective in frightening movies, but things get way less scary when you have to squint really hard at your screen to see them.
Despite my griping about the lighting, The Devil’s Candy is a really solid horror film. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking or innovative, but it does a great job of telling a good story with compelling characters, and you can tell a lot of care went into making this movie into the best version of itself that it can be. This is an easy recommendation to people who are already horror fans, though I don’t see this converting any non-fans to the dark side.
The Devil’s Candy (2015) premiered on the Horror Channel in the UK on Thursday 20 May at 9pm, as part of Supernatural Week. Click here to find out more.
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