From Sean Byrne, director of 2009’s excellent Aussie horror The Loved Ones, comes his sophomore film, The Devil’s Candy, starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Kiara Glasco.
The story is about a metal-loving family of three: Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), struggling painter, his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). They just moved to a new house in rural Texas, a house with a dark past filled with blood. At first everything seems normal, but Jesse starts hearing weird voices in his head, which inspire and possess him to paint rather grotesque images of children burning. Meanwhile, there is also a psychopath (Pruitt Taylor Vince) on the loose, and his path will soon meet with the one of the Hellmans. Where are the voices coming from? Who is the psycho? Why is Jesse painting such images?
While his first film tackled the subjects of obsession toward someone, mistreatment and kidnapping, this time Byrne focuses on religion, obsession toward your job, and the sacrifices we make for success. In its sleek 80 minutes runtime, those themes are explored in a rather open way: there are enough hints and subtle scenes that challenge the viewer, and everyone is going to have different interpretations of what happened. The best scene in that regard is the one between Jesse and the owner of an art gallery Leonard (Tony Amendola): by simply looking at it you see two men talking, but Leonard gave me a bad vibe, and how he was acting and what he was saying just felt off, almost as if he was an incarnation of the Devil, a more sneaky and greedy one rather than the violent and blood-hungry one (represented by Vince’s character).
The cinematography is sharp, with great use of colors and lighting that sets the mood perfectly. The most impressive moments are wide shots of Jesse’s paintings, which become more and more devilish as the movie goes on. The soundtrack is mostly metal tracks by artist such as Machine Head, PJ Harvey and Sunn O))), as well as an original score by Mads Heldtberg and Michael Yezerski. The editing masterfully incorporates various elements from the soundtrack, with some scenes being cut following the rhythm of the songs, giving the picture a style of his own and great pacing.
The cast is truly great here, with Ethan Embry (better known for Cheap Thrills and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) giving a layered performance as the father of this family who is slowly loosing his grip on the time he spends painting thus neglecting his wife and daughter. Pruitt Taylor Vince has always been more of a character actor, especially due to nystagmus, a condition of involuntary eye movement, and his portrayal of the mentally deranged Ray is truly the most disturbing aspect of the movie. Kiara Glasco (already seen in Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars) gives a solid performance as the daughter, even though her character does a couple of very immature things (which is fitting, considering her age), while Shiri Appleby (best known for the TV show Girls) gives the most bland performance of the picture.
The relentless pacing and great execution make this film stand out from the pile of generic horror movies that are constantly being released, and I appreciated how little violence is actually shown here, instead relying more on clever editing. The only problem I have with the movie is its climax, which did not pack as big a punch as it could have.
Overall, The Devil’s Candy is a well-executed, stylish and original horror movie that fans of the genre should definitely check out. Not as excellent as the director’s previous feature, but he still proves that he is one whose movies we should start looking forward to. As long as it doesn’t take another 8 years…
Visual Effects: 8
Violence & Gore: 8.5
Sex & Nudity: 3
Drugs & Profanity: 6
Intensity & Horror: 8