The Devil’s Candy [TIFF Review]
Australian director Sean Byrne has been heralded for his 2009 film The Loved Ones, and film fans have been dying of anticipation for his next project. The Devil’s Candy is well worth the wait.
In an interview with Under The Gun, Byrne was quoted as saying, “If you don’t care, you don’t scare.” For people who turn up their noses at horror movies, this motto might come as a surprise. For horror junkies, though, this sentiment is music to our ears, and in Byrne’s case, that music is heavy metal and played at an ear-splitting volume in The Devil’s Candy.
Ethan Embry is Jesse, a painter who is struggling with both artistic inspiration and a precarious financial situation. He and his stylist wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), along with their teenaged daughter Zooey (delightful newcomer Kiara Glasco), move into a dirt-cheap house out in the middle of rural Texas. Anyone who’s been to rural Texas, especially in the summer, might question this decision. The house, however, has a giant barn that Jesse can use as a studio, and it has a much more tranquil atmosphere than the family’s previous cramped apartment. The catch? A couple of old people died there.
That may sound like a horror movie cliché, but The Devil’s Candy isn’t one at all. For one, the family of Jesse, Astrid, and Zooey is so tight-knit that you immediately fall in love with them. They’re not perfect, but they’re relatable, and the strong father/daughter bond between hardcore metalheads Jesse and Zooey is believable and adorable.
Secondly, The Devil’s Candy avoids the trap of good vs. evil, presenting a story in which actions are terrible, and not necessarily people. The evil in this film isn’t black and white and even during moments of resolution, there’s no corny message of redemption or triumph, just flawed human beings struggling to survive in a terribly imperfect world.
Finally, the idea of a haunted house is turned on its head in The Devil’s Candy. There is haunting to be found, but there is no Indian burial ground, no Satanic cult members lurking in the dark corridors of the hallways. There is just madness, mayhem, and murder.
This isn’t to say that The Devil’s Candy is some shallow slasher film because it isn’t. It plays on real-life fears and reel-life tropes to create a terrifying, suspenseful tale that resonates deeply. It even throws a few sly self-referential jokes at the audience. It also portrays metal fans with the kind of accuracy that could only come from a true fan of the genre, in this case, writer/director Sean Byrne. This means that The Devil’s Candy has a truly killer soundtrack in addition to more than a few horrific moments and most importantly, an abundance of heart.