Thursday, December 7, 2017

#2,474. The Devil's Candy (2015)

Directed By: Sean Byrne

Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Tag line: "He Will Slither into your Soul"

Trivia: Came in 3rd place for Best Feature at the 2016 Sheffield Horror Film Festival

I first watched director Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy earlier this year, and was beyond impressed. It was a deeply troubling horror film that delved into dark territory, all the while centering on a very likable young family. I knew then that the movie was special, and when I finally picked up the Blu-Ray a few months later I couldn’t wait to sit down with it again. 

But something quite unexpected happened during that subsequent viewing. Even though I knew what was coming, The Devil’s Candy managed to disturb me more the second time! In fact, there was a moment when I had to stop the Blu-Ray and collect my thoughts, something that wasn't necessary the first time I saw it. 

It was a unique experience for me; I’ve been frightened by films before, but can’t remember one that scared me more the second time around. The fact that The Devil’s Candy did exactly that is a tribute to its director and his excellent cast. 

Though strapped for cash, the Hellman family: struggling artist Jesse (Ethan Embry); his wife Astrid (Shari Appleby); and their teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco), has just moved into their dream house, a beautiful Texas abode that’s well off the beaten path. There’s even an old barn out back, which Jesse transforms into his art studio. And while Zooey is somewhat apprehensive about her first day at a brand new school, the Hellmans are confident they’ll be happy here for many years to come. 

But the house has a dark history. Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a mentally backward man whose family once owned it, used to say he heard voices coming from behind his bedroom wall, and one night those voices told him to murder his parents. Because their deaths were ruled an accident, Ray Smilie is still a free man, and catches the Hellmans off-guard when he shows up on their front porch one evening, asking if he can move back into his old room. Though he feels sorry for Ray, Jesse refuses to let him inside. 

And it’s a good thing, too, because the voices continue to haunt Ray Smilie, telling him to do terrible things to children, and convincing him that he should now set his sights on young Zooey! As for Jesse, he, too, has started hearing the voices, which speak to him through his artwork. In a trance one afternoon, Jesse even paints a picture that suggests Zooey is in great danger. 

Can Jesse protect his daughter from Ray Smilie, or has Zooey’s fate already been determined by a force greater than all of them? 

So why did The Devil’s Candy upset me more this second viewing? The answer is simple: I cared about the Hellman clan, so much so that I didn’t want to see them go through what I knew was coming. From the beginning, we see that the Hellmans are a tight-knit family, and that Jesse and Zooey in particular have a special bond. Ethan Embry was the perfect actor to play Jesse, the well-meaning father who passed his passion for heavy metal music on to his daughter, and Kiara Glasco is equally good as Zooey, who, thanks to her upbringing, is a thoughtful, intelligent young woman. Shari Appleby is also convincing as Astrid, who - though she doesn’t share the same interests as Jesse and Zooey - is a loving mother. It’s the relationship between father and daughter, though, that pulls us in and makes us fear the evil we know is coming for them all. 

Yet despite the horrific things he does throughout the movie (including one very troubling sequence involving the abduction of a young boy), we realize early on that Pruitt Taylor Vince’s Ray Smilie is as much a victim as any character in this film. We're introduced to Ray in the movie's opening scene, a flashback to the night he murdered his parents. To drown out the voices filling his head with terrible thoughts, Ray stands in his darkened bedroom, playing his "Flying V" electric guitar as loudly as possible. Ray wants the voices to go away, and has no desire to carry out their orders; he even says as much to his potential victims. But his simplistic nature has made it impossible for Ray to fight the demon that's controlling his mind. Vince has always been an underrated actor, and in The Devil’s Candy he manages to make us feel sympathy for a character that, more than once, turns into a monster before our very eyes. 

With The Devil’s Candy, writer / director Sean Byrne has crafted a singular motion picture, and, thanks to his steady hand and the excellent performances turned in by his cast, the movie loses none of its effectiveness from one viewing to the next. There are instances when familiarity does, indeed, breed contempt, but in the case of The Devil’s Candy it manages to stir up a little dread as well.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I recently watched this movie and it scared me more than it had any right to. I had to look it up on your blog to see if you'd talked about it and you were spot on