“A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas, in this creepy haunted-house tale.” — IMDb
The Devil’s Candy is the second feature film from Australian director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones). This movie is impressive enough as it is, but knowing it is only the director’s second film makes it even more so.
The story centers primarily around an almost unrecognizable Ethan Embry as Jesse, the grungy, long-haired, metal-loving, art-obsessed patriarch of a small family. Despite the fact that it means he will have to sell out a bit, he’s ready for them to move into their first real home, a large farmhouse in rural Texas with an expansive barn that he envisions as a studio. His preteen daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), is frustrated by the expected growing pains of starting at a new school, and his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), is hesitant when she finds out that the too-good-to-be-true low price is due to the previous owners dying within the house’s walls… but onward they go. No time is wasted before Jesse starts being “inspired” by inexplicable urges and one of the previous tenants makes an unwelcome reappearance…
** SPOILERS! **
I was hooked in to this film from the very first minutes… and that’s rare. The styling, the mood, the dread-heavy guitar riff… I loved it all.
Metal is featured heavily — almost exclusively — and the father-daughter bond that Jesse and Zooey share over their love of Metallica and headbanging in the car is really goddamn cute. I feel like I’m so used to seeing either fathers and sons bonding or fathers fumbling through trying to connect with their daughters that this was a refreshing departure. Zooey is beautiful but unapologetic with her style, and there’s really no mention of her “not fitting in” aside from the universal apprehension to start fresh at a new high school.
The entire thing felt sharp in a way I haven’t experienced in a while. The acting felt natural, each of the characters seemed like they were well-cast, and the run-time was short enough that I never got bored or antsy. At only 79 minutes it was both pleasing to my ADHD mind that tends to bounce around if it has too much freedom to do so (and even when it doesn’t) and impressive that Byrne was able to flesh out the characters so much in such a brief span of time.
Everyone was fantastic, but Pruitt Taylor Vince — playing Ray, the possessed son of the house’s previous owners — stole the show. As with many actors, I first discovered him in an episode of The X-Files (Gerry in “Unruhe”), but he has a huge list of previous projects. He managed to be sinister and yet almost pitiful in a way, especially with it being unclear just how long he had been tortured by these growling, menacing voices. He brings such an understated sense of tension to every scene he’s in, particularly the feeling of panic you feel when hearing his blaring guitar riffs (his futile attempt to drown out said voices).
The concepts explored are vast and complex. We center around the idea of Satan being an “active, violent, anti-God personal reality”, a force that moves through humans rather than a goofy cartoon character with red flesh and horns, and then segue seamlessly into the fear that every parent has of someday not being able to protect their child from all evil. We see Jesse dealing with feelings of inadequacy on all sides — not being able to support his family even when he compromises his artistic values, especially when it comes to his daughter, who, with age, is becoming increasingly skeptical of his ability to do (and provide) it all. Not to mention the juxtaposition of intense artistic inspiration being a form of “possession” in itself, with Jesse only able to get the attention of the high-end gallery owner when he completely loses himself in his work, at the expense of his family and their trust in him.
And the final scenes? Oh man, the final scenes. I wouldn’t have imagined myself loving watching Ethan Embry kill a man with a Gibson Flying V while flames encircle them and metal music rumbles so loud you think it will explode the TV itself… so I learned something new about myself today.
It’s like a haunted house movie merged with a possession film and dressed up in the style of a serial killer flick… and I freaking loved it.
Rating: 8.5/10 | Director: Sean Byrne | Writer: Sean Byrne | Music: Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski | Cinematography: Simon Chapman | Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco, Tony Amendola