My notes on The Devil’s Candy
A family – struggling painter Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), who is bonded with his mid-teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) over their shared love of heavy metal music, and sensible wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) – move into an isolated Texas homestead which is on the market cheap because the former owners died in semi-mysterious circumstances depicted in a prologue. While working in his new barn-studio on a commissioned mural of butterflies for a bank, Jesse finds his painting taking a darker turn – and might be falling under a genuine Satanic influence. While the place is also visited over and over by Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince), son of the folks who died here – a big baby in a red tracksuit with a number of odd, eccentric, disturbing habits. We know early on that Ray (who gives Zooey his sweet guitar) is an actual threat, but it’s up in the air as to whether he’s just crazy or was a previous victim of supernatural evil that is now working on Jesse.
Australian director-writer Sean Byrne made a notable debut with The Loved Ones and here shifts his concerns to America, though the story could as easily have taken place in the outback – he does get a chance to work with a couple of stalwarts of the indie horror scene, drawing excellent performances from Embry (Late Phases, Cheap Thrills) and Vince (who has played homicidal loons before, iconically in Identity, but brings a touch of pathos and even dark comedy to his very disturbed and disturbing heavy – perhaps getting his best screen showcase since James Mangold’s Heavy). Alongside the usual business of escalating scares and a climactic conflagration, the film is good on the way artistic intensity can be troublesome to live with – at one point, Jesse gets so caught up in his vision he forgets to pick up his daughter from school, prompting a major rift in the family, which sets up a scene as he finally gets a break with a gallery manager (Tony Amendola) who tantalisingly insists on celebrating their deal just as Jesse is supposed to keep his promise not to forget Zooey ever again.
Underneath, it’s a simple story – or, rather, two simple stories overlaid, as it blends the family-buy-a-haunted-house premise (Something Evil, The Amityville Horror) with a family-menaced-by-a-former-resident-of-their-new-house (Bad Ronald, Cold Creek Manor) premise – but Byrne’s character-based approach (even the traditionally wet blanket Mom character is vivid and interesting) plays well and it runs to some decent scares between the slower-burning creepiness.
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