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IFI Horrorthon 2016 Review - THE DEVIL'S CANDY

A painter becomes inspired by the demon inhabiting his new home.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Sean Byrne

Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tony Amendola



Writer-director Sean Byrne couldn't be accused of telling the most original of tales with The Devil's Candy - it's essentially a standard haunted house movie with a heavy metal twist - but he tells it with confidence and class.



Aussie filmmaker Sean Byrne drew much acclaim for his 2009 debut, The Loved Ones, but audiences have been kept waiting for his sophomore offering. Despite debuting at 2015's edition of the Toronto Film Festival, The Devil's Candy has yet to acquire distribution on either side of the Atlantic. It turned out to be this year's surprise film at the Irish Film Institute's annual Horrorthon fest, giving Dublin horror fans a rare chance to enjoy Byrne's movie.

Though his debut was labelled by some as 'torture porn', Byrne's second outing is gore-free, reliant on off-screen terror and implied threat. That threat comes mostly from Ray Smilie, a hulking manchild played by Pruitt Taylor Vince in full Vincent D'Onofrio mode. In the opening scene, Ray's mother is killed following her request that he not play his electric guitar so loud. Ray has a voice in his head, which may be Satan himself, and the only way to ignore it is to play his music...loud.



Being the site of a murder means the Smilie family home is available for a bargain price, and so in moves struggling painter and metalhead Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), along with his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and precocious teen daughter, fellow metal lover Zooey (Kiara Glasco). When Jesse begins hearing the same voice that troubled Ray, he suddenly finds new inspiration, producing disturbing paintings that catch the attention of a local gallery that previously dismissed his work.

Meanwhile Ray is murdering kids, burying their chopped up remains in a shallow grave, and he seems intent on returning to the family home and making young Zooey his latest human sacrifice.



Byrne couldn't be accused of telling the most original of tales with The Devil's Candy - it's essentially a standard haunted house movie with a heavy metal twist - but he tells it with confidence and class. Working with cinematographer Simon Chapman, Byrne delivers a movie that's visually as beautifully dark as the demented murals the possessed Jesse creates in his workshed. With an absence of jump scares, handheld shots and visible CG, The Devil's Candy looks for all the world like it was made four decades ago.

The script, also by Byrne, is tight and focussed, communicating its ideas in simple and effective fashion. Within minutes of introducing his leads, Byrne tells us more about their relationship than James Wan has managed with the Warrens over two lengthy Conjuring movies. One simple shot of Jesse and Zooey headbanging to loud metal on their car stereo sets up their charming father-daughter dynamic in a way no dialogue exchange could.



With such effort made to endear us to the leads, the stakes are raised considerably when they later come under threat. Unlike most mainstream American horrors, whose characters are merely fodder for a killer, we genuinely care about what happens to Jesse and his family.

The film does however have one considerable obstacle it fails to overcome, and that's in how it deals with its antagonist. He may be disposing of children, but given he's a victim himself, suffering from both earthly and supernatural ailments, it's difficult to view Ray as an outright villain, and this becomes problematic in the film's final set-piece when we're essentially asked to root against a character suffering from a mental illness. The source of the demonic voice haunting Ray and Jesse is never fully explored, and the local art gallery is set up as a sinister organisation in a sub-plot that leads nowhere. Perhaps Byrne is leaving room for a sequel, but given this movie is struggling to find distribution, that now seems all too naive on his part.




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