Written and directed by Sean Byrne, The Devil’s Candy is a 2015 horror film that’s heavy on the psychology and religious symbolism. Scream Factory is releasing the film on Blu-ray on September 26th.
Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry, almost unrecognizable here) and his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) move into an old house in rural Texas. Jesse, a frustrated painter, feels like this will be an ideal place to get some work done. So the family, including the Hellmans’ pre-teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) make the move. Kind of a tired horror trope, yeah, but the house comes cheap because two people had just recently died inside. The deaths were said to be accidents, but after having watched the movie’s prologue, we know better. We know that the old couple who lived there were killed by their son Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a man in his fifties or so who is mentally ill and has the mind of a child. And that, as you might have guessed, is where the trouble starts. Ray is cast adrift, but he’s not done with the house or its inhabitants quite yet. Even worse, the house itself is some sort of conduit for Satan himself to enter the bodies of its inhabitants and create all sorts of havoc.
All good stuff, of course, and the film is punctuated by top-notch technical aesthetics. There’s great sound design all around, but it makes itself especially evident when Ray and Jesse hear the voice of the devil. The voice starts out subtle, barely a part of the background, and then gets louder and louder, until it can’t be ignored. The visuals are stunning, too. Simon Chapman’s cinematography creates an atmosphere of terror among the tranquility of the absolutely gorgeous Texas countryside. At times, during nightmare sequences and such, everything is drenched in a red hue that both resembles candy in its sweetness and blood in its density. So much is said in suggestion here that multiple viewings might be necessary to catch everything.
The actors behind the Hellman family are very likeable. They have great chemistry, which is of course essential if you’re trying to portray a family who love and respect each other. They’re all very fine actors and it feels right that they’re together in this movie. Pruitt Taylor Vince is sometimes mesmerizing as Ray. He uses his vividly expressive eyes to convey the goings-on behind the mind of a person who’s somehow childlike and possessed with unimaginable evil. Special mention, of course, has to go to Kiara Glasco for putting in such an awesome performance. At twelve years old, she had to play a character who goes through some very adult situations.
Ethan Embry’s Jesse is an interesting character. He embodies good and evil in perhaps opposite proportion to Ray. He looks like Jesus, or at least the white-Christ who appears in portraits in so many American hallways and bedrooms. He’s a metalhead who looks a bit like a hippie, as they sometimes tend to do. I have no idea how relevant metal music is anymore, but when I was keeping up with it in the 1990’s, metalheads were always interested in exploring extremes, if only through their music. It was always a mostly harmless exploration of negative emotions, the pleasure of the flesh, and violence. This was expressed through the music, for the most part, but the metalheads I knew were never shy about ingesting all sorts of booze and drugs, and indulging in the occasional fistfight. In this sense, it’s even more interesting that our hero resembles Christ and will be tempted by the devil. It suggests a synthesis of good and evil that exists inside Jesse, a mix that works well enough until it becomes unbalanced. There’s so much going on symbolically with this film that it might require a re-watch or two to suss through everything. At the core of the film, though, there’s a simple question being asked: Would you sell your soul for success, particularly if you’re an artist? Much of the movie is watching to see how far Jesse will submit to supernatural evil for earthly success.
The Blu-ray commentary track features Byrne talking about his movie. These tend to be my least favorite commentary tracks because, however much they might not want to, the director almost inevitably ends up telling the audience the “proper” way to interpret things, since they carry the voice of authority. There was some of that here, a good deal more than I would have liked, actually, but Byrne peppered the track with plenty of personal and technical information. Byrne said of the old country house location that he didn’t like houses that “scream ‘haunted house,’” and I can agree with him there. It looked quite peaceful, not menacing at all. Also worth noting is that Byrne auditioned some “bigger name” child actors for the role of Zooey, but her chemistry with Ethan Embry was so natural and convincing that he felt compelled to give her the part.
A three-minute behind the scenes documentary of the visual effects is included, as well as a fun tennis-themed horror short directed by Byrne called “Advantage Satan.” We also get a rocking music video by the metal band Goya which consists mostly of clips from the film. Not a ton of special features, but certainly enough to justify the purchase.
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