DIRECTOR: Sean Byrne
WRITER: Sean Byrne
Pruitt Taylor Vince
When a struggling painter, his wife, and their pre-teen daughter purchase a rural old farmhouse. The family are informed that the previous owners had died in the house. Due to the home selling for such a low price, they decide to buy it. One night, the son of the previously deceased owners shows up and claims that it's his home and that he wants to return. After this short meeting, things start to turn sinister, and there may be darker forces at work.
I still remember sitting down in a theatre here in Australia back in 2009 and watching director, Sean Byrne's first feature film The Loved Ones. After the movie had finished, I remember turning to my friend at that moment and telling them that we may have just witnessed a masterpiece of Australian horror filmmaking from a director that we will need to keep a close eye on. The Loved Ones was violent, deranged and at times darkly hilarious. I fell in love with that film.
The Loved Ones came along at a time when Australian horror was having this sort of resurgence of excellent and quality genre movies. We had the terrifying Wolf Creek a few years prior that sort of blew up on the festival circuit and was a home-grown hit. We also had the bleak and brutal crime horror film Snowtown which put the 'bodies in a barrel' murders on full display. All three were low budget, gritty and extremely dark. All have grown to become masterpieces of Australian cinema in my eyes.
Cut to six years later. The year is 2015, and I hear early rumblings that director Sean Byrne has made a new film. The Devil's Candy plays at a few festivals but completely disappears. Listening to an interview with Ethan Embry and Sean Byrne, we discover that Sean Byrne is quite the perfectionist and we finally get his sophomore film eight years later. Once the movie is finally released, I hear a lot of positive word of mouth around the film from critics and horror fanatics. This made me incredibly excited to watch his new movie.
After I sat down to watch The Devil's Candy, I was left a little underwhelmed with the finished film. I think the overly positive word of mouth and the extremely long wait to finally see it. It just didn't live up to all of the hype that I had for this film. That's not to say that this is a bad movie by any means, it's actually a very dark and well-made slice of rural satanic horror. I just expected to be giving this one a nine or ten, and it falls just short of that. Still, it's a film that deserves to be seen. I think this will make lots of top ten lists come years end.
My favourite element of The Devil's Candy is the family dynamic and the relationship between the three of them. I really enjoyed the father and daughter's bond. I'm not exactly a metal fan, but I loved watching this father and daughter share their love of metal music and connect by way of it. I thought that was a neat little touch. If Sean Bryne does something right, he makes us really care for this family. We spend all this time with this family that once the shit hits the fan, we want to see the three of them escape. This all falls back on how well the characters are written.
When it comes to the satanic panic side of things. I think this film is really well done. Religious-themed movies have become so saturated in the realm of the horror genre that it all looks and feels very much the same. It's now rare that we see a religiously themed horror movie that feels original. For most of The Devil's Candy, the plot felt like I hadn't seen this sort of story to date. It felt unique to me. Using metal music to drown out the devil's voice that was slowly taking over our lead character and villain was a nice touch. I also enjoyed that they were connected by two different art forms. I thought the painting and metal music elevated the story.
Where The Devil's Candy let me down was those final ten minutes. While not exactly predictable, the movie descends into familiar territory. The movie closes in a bloody showdown between villain and family, and it felt like the sort of ending that I'd seen in other horror films. For most of the running time, I was left on edge by where the story was going, but once the two come colliding together, I felt a little let down by the ending. It starts off promising with a few gut-punches where I thought certain characters were shockingly killed off but they sort of do a cop out in the end.
Another big issue in the third act was the poorly done CGI. We have a scene where our villain decides to burn down the families house with everyone inside. He sets a staircase and a bedroom on fire to kill the parents, their daughter, and himself. The scenes are created with the help of computers, and the entire scene looks incredibly fake. We also have our villain burning to death, and instead of going practical, they burn him alive with CGI, and it really took me out of that moment. While it's not a significant issue, it still felt lacklustre.
The acting is excellent. Ethan Embry has become quite the fantastic actor lately. I remember being a teenager and enjoying him in comedies like Empire Records and Can't Hardly Wait. I'm glad to see him tackling much darker roles. Ethan Embry feels like he is at a career best here. Shiri Appleby feels underused. She is excellent in the scenes that she's in, but I felt like her character wasn't used enough. Kiara Glasco as the daughter is fantastic. She gets put in some horrific situations for a young actress, and she smashes it out of the park here. Lastly, Pruitt Taylor Vince as the villain plays evil brilliantly. He's played his fair share of villains, and this may be one of his very best and creepiest to date.
Lastly, when it comes to suspense and scares, The Devil's Candy was well done. From the very first moments, we begin to hear the voices that are talking to our villain, and this happens all through the movie. The evil voices alone put you on the edge of your seat. I thought they were genuinely creepy. The Devil's Candy never tries to dish out jump scares and is more occupied in building dread and suspense. I think it does this somewhat successfully. I believe this is also helped in the way that Sean Byrne sets up these sequences. A lot of gorgeous cinematography is used effectively during all these moments.
DEATH TOLL: 5
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A guitar is smacked into someone's head.
- A woman falls down the stairs and dies.
- A child is smacked in the head with a rock.
- Two people are shot.
- Two police officers are smacked in the head with a rock.
- Someone is repeatedly punched in the face.
- Someone's head is bashed in with a guitar.
- A police officer is crushed in between two cars.
- Someone is kicked in the face.
- Shots of someone mopping up blood.
- A finger is shoved into bloody bullet wound.
The Devil's Candy is a movie I waited eight years to watch. While the film is a worthy follow up to the brilliant The Loved Ones, it sadly falls short of Sean Byrne's excellent debut. What it does successfully is breath some originality in the religious horror sub-genre. The film is heavy on the character development which makes us care for all of the characters, and the performances are excellent. The movie loses points for Shiri Appleby being underused and the final ten minutes which felt very formulaic.