A loving family moving into a new home with a dark past may not seem like a very original idea for a modern horror movie, but as with many things in life, it’s all about the execution. Sean Byrne, director of the insanely entertaining The Loved Ones, has once again crafted a unique character-centered horror movie that pays homage to the great scary movies of the past while building upon them with his new film, The Devil’s Candy.
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby and Kiara Glasco as the aptly named Hellman family, The Devil’s Candy chronicles the ensuing struggle when a demonic force begins to possess Jesse, head of the family and struggling artist, as they move into a new house. While Jesse’s newfound artistic muse seems like a blessing at first, the occult roots of his work begin to take a toll on the family, especially as the disturbed Ray Smilie, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, begins to take interest in Jesse’s daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco).
This setup may seem a bit too similar to other family-oriented occult films like The Amityville Horror, but Byrne once again manages to surprise us, turning what could have been a generic haunted house movie into an unexpectedly poignant family drama that just happens to deal with ritualistic murderers and satanic pacts. That’s not to say that this isn’t a frightening film, but it’s quite obvious from the beginning that it’s going to be an extremely character-oriented (but still delightfully chilling) experience.
Consequently, The Devil’s Candy owes a great deal to its phenomenal cast, specifically the members of the Hellman clan. Embry, Appleby and Glasco have genuine chemistry together, and it’s hard not to root for them to overcome both literal and figurative demons in order to survive together. This familiar charm is abundantly clear through Jesse’s gradual possession, which never manages to turn him into an unlikeable character.
Sadly, the antagonist here isn’t quite up to par with the rest of the film. Vince gives a stellar performance as the reluctant killer, but he’s more of an interesting character than a scary one. An overweight devil worshipper might be terrifying in real life, but would seem slightly underwhelming in a horror movie. Nevertheless, this does match the film’s subdued, down-to-earth tone, and a flashier villain might have ruined some of the more emotional scenes.
Strangely enough, the film also boasts a heavy-metal soundtrack that serves not only as ear candy, but also as a means of bringing this peculiar family together and adding to the atmosphere. It’s quite rare to see (or rather, hear) heavy metal music being used so skillfully in film, but it perfectly complements Byrne’s direction here. He may be holding back on the villain with this one, but the disturbing imagery, intelligent script and cinematography are all expertly crafted.
There are certainly those that won’t appreciate an occult movie that focuses more on the victims than on the evil forces at work against them, but they’ll be missing out on an extremely satisfying horror experience. It’s hard to find a scary movie so dedicated to making you care about the main characters and their relationships, but that makes it much more intense when these people are in danger. If you like your horror movies served with a side of compelling characters and a thoughtful yet unsettling story, you should definitely check out The Devil’s Candy.
The Devil’s Candy will be available on VOD and in select theaters starting March 17th!