IFC MIDNIGHT (2017)
Director: Sean Byrne
Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Craig Nigh, Marco Perella
“He will slither into your soul”
He’s a wrongun, that devil fella.
An old school movie without ever feeling like a bonafide throwback, The Devil’s Candy smothers the screen in grit, grime, khaki colours, sweat, desperation…and a whole lot of metal music. The movie wears its love for heavy rock and macho hair very much on its sleeve, and in turn in becomes almost a small homage to the genre and its undeniable link to horror movies.
The movie itself is just decent, however.
Infantile and overweight, Ray (Vince) stays up late blaring his guitar into the night, until his mother unplugs her middle-aged son’s set-up and tells him enough is enough. Well, that was a mistake to mess with the Devil’s soundtrack as Ray clubs her down the stairs with his Flying V guitar. Not sure I’d have gotten away with that back in the day. Obviously, he’s sent to a mental institution. However, Ray plays the music to drown out the voices in his head, demonic voices, ones that have the power to invert crucifixes on the wall. Years later, the Hellman family, Jesse (Embry), Astrid (Appleby) and their daughter Zooey (Glasco) move into the house to start a new life.
Jesse is a toiling painter who is having to sell out to the man in order to make some money – in this case, painting butterflies for banks. He smokes weed, listens to metal and spends a lot of time shirtless, but his loyalty to his family is unquestionable. One evening, not-incarcerated Ray turns up to the Hellman’s, briefly conversing with Zooey before Jesse sends him away – but it’s clear he wants in and over time, his appearances at the house become more frequent and more deadly. Still struggling with the voices in his head, Ray isn’t the only one to be taken over by the demonic force.
Seven years after his acclaimed (and riotously entertaining) The Loved Ones, Sean Byrne returns to the director’s chair with The Devil’s Candy. This is a more focused story than Byrne’s previous effort, there’s less black comedy here and more emphasis on character – but it isn’t on the level of The Loved Ones. The suspense revolves more around the character of Ray than anything else in the movie – watching him skulk around in the bushes in close proximity to children, seeing him absorb televised Devil denouncing by passionate pastors and guzzling candy whilst plotting his next move provide the movies ‘fear’ elements in a movie that doesn’t deliver on the scares.
This is Jesse/Embry’s movie primarily, with the story focusing on him and his daughter, Zooey, and the mistakes that parents make (no matter how laid back or alternative), more than the plight and actions of the creepy, lumbering child killer Ray. It’s restrained in that sense as it could probably have been so easy to overuse the Ray character and have him as a child Terminator of sorts, but he thankfully isn’t utilised that way. It’s a story that weaves threads of symbolism between t-shirts, paintings and love whilst leaning heavily on the angle of sacrifice. There’s some interesting subtext hidden throughout the movie that unlocks extra layers to the characters.
Ethan Embry has the shoulders to carry the movie and keep it at a grounded level with his strong performance. With his Jesus-like hair and beard and toned physicality, he cuts a striking on-screen image and is more than adept at handling the various emotive situations thrown at him. Taylor Vince is shufflingly creepy as the unhinged, juvenile loose cannon Ray, lumbering towards his targets with an unnerving stare and hunch, he’s an effective antagonist that doesn’t overstay his welcome.
The Devil’s Candy is dripping with hard-edged, hard riffed metal from the likes of Sunn O))), Slayer, Machine Head and Metallica (the closing credits roll out to For Whom the Bells Toll, rock on!) There’s a genuine affection on display for the oft-criticised genre and in terms of the movie, it fits the nature perfectly. The tone is as gritty and heavy as its soundtrack. Scenes are painted in beige, green, khaki and an all-over grimy filter – even the exterior of the house has strange orange flowers blooming through. The use of colour is prevalent throughout The Devil’s Candy – Jesse is either ethereal and shirtless or clothed in white whereas Ray is predominantly coloured in red, the colour of SIN. The location is horror cliché through-and-through, a large house off the beaten track, surrounded by dense woodland and a thick cornfield – it’s a Texan delight.
Yes, the family are named the Hellman’s – a contender for 2017’s most on-the-nose story point.
With a fairly pedestrian build up, the movie allows itself time to develop and tells it story whilst also giving the characters crucial time to grow. However, the third act lets the movie down. It’s almost a given to allow yourself to suspend belief, however, the final showdown is just pretty…dumb. There are a few moments during the movie that stretch credibility, however, the ending was unsatisfying. For a director that pulls no punches, and has some impressive moments in his short career, the conclusion of The Devil’s Candy feels simply generic and not what I would have hoped to have seen from Byrne’s talents.
To call a movie solid can sometimes be uncomplimentary and, at times, lazy, however, it sums up The Devil’s Candy to a tee. It’s solid. It offers some good moments, good visuals, a good soundtrack and delivers some standard horror tropes (whilst at times subverted) but never threatens to break out and reach a higher level. Following The Loved Ones, The Devil’s Candy is a disappointment, but it’s still a decent disappointment. Satisfying, but not rewatchable.
October 30th 2017