TIFF 2015 Review: The Devil’s Candy

Ethan Embry in "The Devil's Candy"

Ethan Embry in “The Devil’s Candy”

The tensest moment in The Devil’s Candy isn’t a scary one. It’s a character one. Director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) really cares about the family at the centre of the film – the unambiguously named Hellmans – Jesse (Ethan Embry), Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). Even though Byrne puts them through Hell – bouts of demonic possession, frequent run-ins with a serial killer, and a nefarious art dealer  – the scene that really got me was Jesse running late to pick up Zooey from school. That’s when I realized that despite The Devil’s Candy being a fairly average horror flick it does a fantastic job of crafting likeable characters that you’re invested in…even when they’re not in life-threatening situations.

Jesse is a tortured artist reduced to painting butterflies on commission for a bank’s lobby to pay the bills for his family. He’s a heavy metal aficionado (which may be obvious from his matted beard and long, unkempt hair) and shares that passion for music with his daughter. This is a happy, if unconventional, family and inevitably, they find a Perfect Family Dream Home for a great price. The catch? Obviously, a double murder took place there (but don’t worry, the real estate agent discloses this…although he may refer to them as deaths rather than murders…). Things get a little spooky, Jesse starts hearing some voices, the former occupant of the home (and also a serial killer) comes for a visit, yada yada yada we got ourselves a horror movie!

The Devil’s Candy is an example of a film with too many ideas. It’s a fascinating haunted house movie, similar to The Shining, where the personality of the patriarch undergoes some disturbing changes. But it’s also a a family-in-peril film where the Hellmans are hunted by an unhinged serial killer. And it briefly flirts with the religious conspiracy angle where seemingly normal individuals are agents of the devil (it’s usually pretty obvious who they are when the soundtrack becomes darkly ominous). The film does a commendable job juggling these different plot strands, but they all feel a little undercooked.

Pruitt Taylor Vince does an excellent job as Ray, the former occupant of the Hellman’s new home. He’s a unhinged monster, but he doesn’t want to be one. He’s simply a glimpse of a few steps further along on the demonic possession scale than Jesse is. Where Jesse’s demonic voices are his muse to create challenging pieces of artwork, for Vince’s character they torment him until he kills people. His only salvation is drowning the demonic voices out with heavy metal music, but as you might be able to guess, that doesn’t really make him a popular person when everyone else is trying to sleep. Dressed in a ratty red tracksuit that gets filthier throughout the film, Ray is the image of malevolence and a frightening character. It’s just too bad that the climatic confrontation between Ray and Jesse uses some laughably bad CGI flames that completely undercuts the realism, and as a result – any tension – of the situation.

The Devil’s Candy is a competent horror-thriller with a sympathetic family at its centre, but loses its punch by juggling too many different plots that each could’ve each served as their own film. A solid feature for those thirsting for a horror fix, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.

Grade: B

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