THE DEVIL'S CANDY
Director: Sean Byrne
Cast: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tony Amendola, Mylinda Royer
Running Time: 1:19
Release Date: 3/17/17 (limited); 4/28/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 27, 2017
The Devil is a source of inspiration in The Devil's Candy, an unsettling horror film about dueling methods of confronting that inspiration. There are two men here. Both have creative outlets for the satanic voice that echoes through the head of each man. One violently, repeatedly strums a minor chord on his electric guitar, attempting to drown out the guttural whisper that chants what sounds like Latin. The other, a painter, allows the voice to control him to certain extent, and he ends up creating the most effective work he has ever done. One of these men is driven to murder by the voice, and in retrospect, it's not the one whom we should expect.
One man fights the voice. The other embraces it. We would expect that the latter man would give in to the voice's plan, right?
That would be a reasonable assumption. Writer/director Sean Byrne gives us the opposite, though. It's the man in constant battle with the influence of the voice who succumbs to its temptation. That happens within the first few minutes of the film, when Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince, that ever-reliable character actor, finding the sense of pitiable victimhood within a monster of a man) pushes his mother down a flight of steps and then proceeds to—we have to assume, because Byrne doesn't show us—do something deadly to his father. Each death is determined to be, respectively, an accident and either natural causes or suicide (The official ruling on the second death is fuzzy, which is to say that people say, "He couldn't live without her," and the vagueness allows the folks from a small town in Texas to offer some gossipy winks and nudges).
The second man is Jesse (Ethan Embry), who buys the now low-priced house with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby). In addition to being an artist, Jesse is a heavy-meatal enthusiast—a taste that he has passed on to his teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). For financial reasons, Jesse has been forced to make softer, audience-friendly art as of late. Shortly after arriving at the house, he begins hearing the same voice that Ray hears. While he's under its spell, Jesse enters into something like a trance, resulting in a grotesque painting of children screaming amidst hellfire, overlooked by a multi-eyed monster.
We have seen the possible results of this voice's influence, and perhaps the obvious route for this story to take would be to follow Jesse as he faces a similar struggle as Ray. There is a bit of that (A portrait of Zooey ends up in the mural), but Byrne plays with expectations here. The ultimate plot itself is fairly easy and obvious, but in taking that approach, the screenplay subverts our expectations of the direction in which this story seems to be heading.
As it turns out, Ray is not merely an example of how the demonic voice can affect a hearer of that voice. He's a key player in the story, serving as a juxtaposition to Jesse (and vice versa, of course). Ray returns to the film shortly after Jesse and his family move into the house. He's still fighting the voice with his electric guitar, locked away in a motel room where his neighbors call the local Sheriff's office about the noise. Deprived of his only outlet for channeling and/or quieting the voice, Ray has no choice but to listen to its instructions.
On the other hand, Jesse, a good and decent guy (despite his outward appearance of disheveled clothing and a body covered in plenty of tattoos), has a more constructive way of dealing with the voice. His art not only becomes darker, but it also becomes better, finally giving him an opportunity to have his work shown in an esteemed gallery in the area. The tension here is never whether or not Jesse will become a homicidal maniac. It's in more minor things, such as whether or not he'll make it dinner with his family or remember to pick up Zooey from school (Embry's performance is quite good in playing that conflict between the character's nature and his attraction to this new muse).
This becomes a problem because Ray is on the loose, and the voice's instructions involve murder—namely the sacrifice of children. Needless to say, this development is a difficult one—one that is inherently questionable, because it is so easy to take an exploitative approach. Byrne is more concerned with the horror of Ray's action than with attempting to illicit suspense from them.
The first murder (which is prompted by a bit of cheap misdirection as Ray approaches a pair of kids at an isolated playground) is almost abstract in its portrayal, mainly because it's intercut with shots of Jesse painting. The connection is obvious (the two men "at work" for the voice), but the imagery is both chilling and visceral—the brushes of paint on a canvass edited together with blood being mopped within a bathtub. It's distancing enough that it doesn't exploit the murder of a child but grotesque enough to feel the consequences.
The plot becomes fairly standard, as Ray's eyes turn toward a certain target, but the underlying connection between the story's protagonist and antagonist provides that plot with some eerie ideas (The fact that the outcome of the climactic confrontation is never a given helps some, too). The Devil's Candy is about how dark thoughts and impulses can be channeled for good or for ill, and the film itself serves an example of that conflict—for the good, obviously.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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