“THE DEVIL’S CANDY” (TIFF Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Phil Brown
Australian director Sean Byrne caused quite a stir with his 2009 debut THE LOVED ONES when it premiered at TIFF’s midnight madness. A peculiar mix of John Hughes teen melodrama and harsh gore horror, THE LOVED ONES toyed with viewers and twisted expectations in a manner designed to specifically please movie nerds. Unfortunately, studios didn’t quite know what to make of THE LOVED ONES, and the film took ages to actually reach screens after making the festival rounds. So it’s not too surprising that Byrne’s long delayed return is a far more conventional genre effort, nor is it particularly surprising that the more conventional movie isn’t quite as interesting.
Ethan Embry stars as an unfulfilled metalhead artist in Texas. His career never quite took off like he hoped, having been reduced to painting a mural of butterflies for a bank, which is quite possibly the least metal thing ever. But he does have a wonderful wife (Shiri Appleby) and a teen daughter (Kiara Glasco) who loves rocking out almost as much as daddy. While house hunting on a budget, they discover a fantastic place that has an unfortunate secret: the elderly couple died on-site, one of which was a suicide. Since the family doesn’t realize they are living in a horror movie, they take the bargain.
Shortly after moving in, things seem off. The Artist starts becoming entranced by a stained glass cross and begins painting disturbing images against his will. In fact, he becomes so distracted that he even forgets to pick up his daughter from school and doesn’t seem too concerned when the big burly child of the aforementioned deceased couple (Pruitt Taylor Vince) starts showing up at odd hours and becomes entranced by his daughter. To be fair, the Artist didn’t see those other scenes of that same man stalking and killing kids.
It has to be said that THE DEVIL’S CANDY is a stylishly mounted little scare flick and one that gets off to a strong start. The entire cast is excellent and the central family in particularly is quite realistically drawn in a lovingly dysfunctional manner. As a director, Sean Byrne displays what he can do stylistically and atmospherically with a restrained budget. As a writer, Byrne continues to show off his genre-nerd smarts by deliberately crafting a narrative that toys with audience expectations. The set up suggests a haunted house yarn, but then things segue into the realm of satanic panic, before finally settling into the subgenre that the movie is actually a part of and, sadly, it might be the least interesting choice for the story. The movie kicks off undeniably well and will get fans excited, but that’s sadly just not to last, eventually peaking with a climax that isn’t just a let down from a storytelling perspective, but is also hobbled with some pretty rough CGI.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY is oddly too restrained, as there aren’t nearly as many set pieces as one might expect given the premise and filmmaker. Yet the film somehow manages to be simultaneously too over-the-top, with Vince’s performance in particular getting annoying fast and his presence in the movie doesn’t shrink as the running time inches on.. Even the genre subversion that Byrne employed so well in THE LOVED ONES fall flat here, with the constant shifts in horror subgenres feeling more tiresome than invigorating by the end.
Still, it’s hardly a horrible movie. Byrne is an accomplished filmmaker and the cast is quite strong. There are isolated scenes and sequences that work in the second half that flies off the rails, so the flick is not without interest. It’s just always a shame to watch a movie slip away from filmmakers talented enough to know better.