4 Reasons 'The Devil's Candy' Should Be on Every Horror Fan's Radar

4 Reasons 'The Devil's Candy' Should Be on Every Horror Fan's Radar

Oct 06, 2015

While The Witch continues to be the most-lauded Satanic horror film-festival favorite, we were a little blindsided by The Devil’s Candy as a worthy demonic competitor, offering all of the rock and roll thrills that its high-brow peer does not. There’s no reason why they both can’t find an audience amongst starving horror fanatics, so we’re here to crank up the volume on one of the most fun and suspenseful indie horror offerings we saw at Fantastic Fest.

 

Pruitt Taylor Vince is the Film’s Best Special Effect

We’re pretty sure character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince is a sweetheart of a guy, but he’s made a good name for himself as an unsettling presence, usually plagued by some sort of murderous demon (as seen in The Cell, Constantine, Identity, The X-Files, the list goes on and on…). He does that unnerving twitchy eye thing too well to play the lead in a rom-com. If you’ve seen him in something, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

In The Devil’s Candy he plays the "heavy" yet again, a lumbering childlike drifter named Ray who returns to kill in the home where he murdered his own parents under the influence of the devil. Byrne was smart to cast Vince - the actor gives the monster a soul. There’s a heavy air of sorrow around Ray, as he tries his best to drown out the beckoning demonic voices with ear-piercing strums on an electric guitar. Under Pruitt, this compulsion to kill is a palpable weight on Ray’s shoulders. It could’ve easily been just another creepy serial killer in a lesser actor’s hands. He’s not quite creating sympathy - he’s still too chilling for that - but he is turning a stock horror role into a character who feels real.

 

And Speaking of Characters Who Feel Real… Holy Cow, Kiara Glasco!

Kiara Glasco gives one of the best “scream queen” performances of all-time in The Devil’s Candy. We know it sounds like hyperbole, but it really is an incredible performance. She plays Zooey, the teenage daughter of the family hounded by Ray’s increasingly violent uninvited visits to their new country home. She’s cut from the same metalhead cloth as her father, but has a maturity (obviously from her mom’s side) that puts her one up on her dad Jesse (Ethan Embry). 

In one of the film’s best quiet moments, the roles are reversed - she has to be the grown-up to dad’s immaturity - and when Jesse makes excuses for a boneheaded mistake on his part, you can see exactly who he was at her age. She takes it in so subtly and creates an immediate, subconscious, unspoken acknowledgment that she sees herself in him. When her trust in him is betrayed again later, her heartbreak is made even more real. Their bond is not the movie-fluff family bonding we’re used to seeing in horror, but so much closer to the way familial relationships actually operate in the real world.

Also real is Glasco’s unflinching expression of terror. It’s not just how loud can you scream, but can you express intelligence without dialogue in the face of a harrowing threat? Can you show different, affecting emotions while screaming? She sure can. Glasco ups the suspense a hundred-fold by simply being a three-dimensional teen in a horror film. She’s too damned good, and elevates The Devil’s Candy like a seasoned actor.

 

Ethan Embry is So Metal

The actor joked, “I lost my mind creating my character in The Devil's Candy, but instead everyone compliments my car commercial.” Don’t worry, Mr. Embry. People have seen the commercial; the world is still waiting for The Devil’s Candy. The goofball from Empire Records, Can’t Hardly Wait, and Vegas Vacation is all but a distant memory after Embry’s recent work as a character actor and indie leading man (see also Cheap Thrills). His work in The Devil’s Candy is some of his best.

He disappears into the role of Jesse, which requires physical intensity, family intimacy, and near-madness. Writer-director Sean Byrne and Embry create a character virtually unseen in movies - a headbanging family man. Metal in horror has often been portrayed as the literal villain at best (Black Roses, Trick or Treat) or the favorite soundtrack of the dumbest victims of horror films at worst. Here, metal is a type of music people enjoy, listen to and become invested in. It influences their personal style and artistic tastes -- hey, just like in real life!

By using heavy metal music, our minds fill in some gaps because of stereotypes; we make assumptions about the family that don’t have to be explicitly stated in dialogue. Subconsciously, we assume they are unusual and tough. We assume them to have at least a basic knowledge of the Satanic, which elevates the threat when they begin to take it seriously. It makes the tortured artist in Jesse seem even more susceptible to demonic influence, heightening the tension. The use of metal might seem like a small thing on the surface, but it’s essential to the film.

 

Sean Byrne Could Be the Next Big Thing in Horror

If you had the chance to see Sean Byrne’s debut The Loved Ones (pictured above), his strengths start to become much more clear with his second film. The Loved Ones is the story of a stalker who kidnaps their prey for one torturous night of “romance.” The Devil’s Candy is another in the long line of “new family moves into a house plagued by supernatural forces; dad goes a little nuts” movies. Neither movies are as rote as their synopsis.

The Loved Ones could probably be described as “torture porn” (where the action focuses on how much extreme physical punishment can be doled out to its characters), a subgenre of horror which was definitely falling out of favor around the time of its release in 2009. It’s a brutal, gory film about a popular teen put through hell for rebuffing the advances of an unstable wannabe prom queen. It doesn’t sound pleasant, yet Byrne somehow manages to make the whole thing fun. There’s a playful energy to it that’s close to what we might call a horror-comedy if it wasn’t so spectacularly hardcore. It knows exactly when to give the audiences some relief and when to satisfy, so that it isn’t unrelenting punishment for both the protagonist and the audience. Byrne took something that could’ve been standard and found just enough of a new way to present it that really made it shine.

He does exactly the same thing with The Devil’s Candy. A description doesn’t do the film justice. It’s simple, and yes, it feels like something you’ve seen before, except that it doesn’t. The devil’s in the details - the performances are right, the tone is right, and the tension is right. For experienced horror fanatics, who can be an unusually forgiving bunch to bad acting and boring exposition just to get to the good stuff, The Devil’s Candy feels like a gift. The acting and the exposition is the good stuff. There’s no waiting. It’s a muscular, punchy genre exercise that feels like a new classic simply because the filmmakers noticeably gave a damn.

Sean Byrne is exceptionally good at making horror movies. He cares about the characters, and that, in turn, makes the audience care about the characters. So far, he’s been keenly skilled at taking tired plots, shaking them out, and finding new ways to make horror tropes feel entirely fresh again. We hope it’s not another six years before his next one.

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