Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 19 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Written by: Sean Byrne
Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco, Tony Amendola, Craig Nigh & Leland Orser
There were plenty of reasons to be excited for THE DEVIL’S CANDY. Tons of praise was heaped upon this film when it played the festival circuit and even more positive reviews followed when it was finally released this past spring. I purposely held off on watching this film, so I could see it for the first time during this year’s 31 Days of Horror. DEVIL’S CANDY is the sophomore effort of Sean Byrne, who previously helmed the insane Aussie shocker THE LOVED ONES. Also, just about everything for this movie looked like a perfect combination of creepy and kick-ass. Having finally seen it, I can safely say that THE DEVIL’S CANDY delivers the goods, even though it’s a tad overhyped and suffers from some flaws.
Artist Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry) has just purchased a secluded farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). Things seem to be going pretty well, until Jesse begins to hear a strange demonic voice and his paintings take on a more sinister vibe. As the voice in Jesse’s head becomes progressively louder, he begins to lose track of time and his sanity threatens to slip. All the while, former psychotic resident Raymond Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) comes knocking at Jesse’s door and begins to eyeball Zooey. Things get very creepy, very fast…partially due to the script’s great ideas and partially due to a ridiculously short running time that houses those great ideas.
On the positive side of things, THE DEVIL’S CANDY has fantastic performances, an overall eerie plot, and a grim atmosphere to boot. There is believable family chemistry between Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, and Kiara Glasco. This is particularly true of Embry and Glasco, who share an adorable daddy-daughter connection through their love of heavy metal music. Besides the three central characters, Pruitt Taylor Vince (who you may recognize from numerous thrillers and a handful of dark comedies) is 100% terrifying as the antagonist. Vince sells his role with an odd restrained delivery that gives way to shocking bursts of violence.
Speaking of violence, this movie gets batshit nuts during its final third. Up until that point, there is an atmospheric restrained approach to the story’s grislier bits. This film goes into places that are…uncomfortable (to say the least) and the suggested less-is-more approach makes the creepy moments even creepier. Some sound design and a couple of minimalist shots suggest graphic violence, instead of giving unflinching close-ups on carnage. This makes for a far more disturbing viewing than your average in-your-face gorefest. The film saves most of its brutally realistic violence for a finale in which all hell breaks loose (pun fully intended).
Where I find myself struggling in praising THE DEVIL’S CANDY stems from the short running time. There have been near-masterpieces of horror that have run under 80 minutes in length (e.g. [REC]). However, THE DEVIL’S CANDY packs tons of material into the space of a meager 79 minutes and it feels too rushed at points. Apparently, the festival cut of this film ran 11 minutes longer and I can’t help but think that some extra padding/character development would have greatly benefited the overall pacing of this film. That being said, there are very effective moments and strong ideas here. However, some of the better bits feel rushed or are altogether forgotten by the film’s final five minutes that quickly tie everything up with a bow on top.
There are lots of things that I really dug about THE DEVIL’S CANDY. The disturbing atmosphere was creepy the whole way through and the performances were pretty great all around. The film’s use of sound is especially unnerving, as incomprehensible demonic voices slightly drown out other characters when we cut to the stressed-out Jesse or psycho-killer Raymond. Still, the ridiculously short running time undercuts this film’s overall pacing. Certain scenes simply don’t have time to sink in because we immediately rush from one plot point to another. Overall, THE DEVIL’S CANDY is a solid scarefest, if not a tad overrated and undeniably flawed.