The Devil's Candy Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by IFC Midnight
Written and directed by Sean Byrne
2015, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released on March 17th, 2017
Ethan Embry as Jesse Hellman
Shiri Appleby as Astrid Hellman
Kiara Glasco as Zoe Hellman
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Ray Smilie
Jesse is a painter who loves metal. (Metal music, that is. I don’t know whether his preference is death metal, black metal, or some other flavor, though Metallica comes up several times throughout the film and I’m pretty sure that’s just regular metal.) His wife Astrid works at a salon and has been supporting the family while Jesse does what artists do (struggles, I guess?), and Jesse has recently taken a cheesy commission for a local bank, a painting involving big butterflies, to help make ends meet. They also buy a new house on the cheap, because some old people died there. (I.e., Horror Film Plot #2.) Daughter Zoe loves metal too, and her dad is her best friend, and she really wants a Gibson Flying V guitar. This all may seem like extraneous detail, but actually my favorite part of the film is the weird but happy dynamic between these weird, basically happy family members, who actually love each other and are actively working to make a happy life. That dynamic, of course, is the necessary contrast for the horror elements that creep in soon after the family moves into their new house.
Because of course there’s something more sinister going on than old people dying of natural causes. The audience watches, in the opening scene, as Ray, an unhinged, possibly possessed man, kills his sister with a guitar. It’s Ray’s former house that Jesse and family move into, and when Ray comes back, things start to get weird. Ray is always claiming that when he “plays it loud”—strums his red Gibson Flying V with the amp cranked, presumably, to 11—he can’t hear “him,” referring to a wicked-sounding voice that is forever whispering to him. When Ray tries to get back into his old house, he meets Zoe, who has a tattoo of a red Flying V on her arm. He tells her he has one just like it, and Zoe flips out, assuming that the big obviously unbalanced man on her doorstep must be cool because he shares her taste in guitars. Needless to say, Ray’s intentions aren’t really good, and as we find out more about the voice he hears and what it makes him do, it becomes clear how much darker this story is than its often humorous beginning sets us up to believe.
With a title like The Devil’s Candy—not to mention a trailer like this film’s—one could be forgiven for expecting something very different from what’s actually on offer here. Metal, demonic imagery, madness, murder, more metal... While all of that is present, this is actually a fairly quiet, staid film about family, trust, and art. And demons. And metal. It’s less Rob Zombie and more Stephen King. The performances are great all around. Ethan Embry as Jesse undergoes an impressive transformation from a slightly goofy but committed (metal) family man and artist into a delirious nutcase and then into a (very metal) hero. But Pruitt Taylor Vince as the possessed child-killer Ray steals the show, giving a surprisingly nuanced and bizarrely sympathetic portrait of a man forced to do horrible things he (usually) doesn’t want to do. A violent scene where Ray finally breaks down and starts shooting, then runs out of ammo, is full of weird pathos and borders on slapstick, in a good way. Even the color composition is refreshing: unlike so many contemporary horror films that rely on blued-out, artificially darkened shots, this one often blasts us with the Texas sun, all warm colors and radiant heat.
The Devil’s Candy is quite slow at times, and the metal sound and imagery occasionally verge on the ridiculous. Some questions go frustratingly unanswered: Why is Jesse hearing the voice too? How is he able to paint the things Ray is doing? Who is the art dealer, and why is his appearance important? Ultimately, though, it’s thoughtful, intense, and very good.