Year: 2017
Director(s): Sean Byrne
Writer(s): Sean Byrne
Region of Origin: US

Rating: Unrated
Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas, in this creepy haunted-house tale. (Source)

Heavy metal and horror were made for each other, and it’s their unholy union that makes Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy so devilishly sweet. Like the musical genre that inspired it, Byrne’s latest is loud, littered with sludgy guitars, demonic whispers and even a red Flying V, which figures into the plot with a brutal wink and a nudge. Byrne understands metal’s inherent silliness, but looks to it with love, resulting in a diabolical thriller that contrasts how satan is shallowly portrayed in song, vs the nature of true evil. Not as tight as Byrne’s previous film, The Loved Ones, but still stylishly irresistible, The Devil’s Candy is still a must for metal or horror fans, boasting a trio of powerful performances (including one long-haired Ethan Embry) and gorgeously evil visuals that are oft-times literally on fire.

The story focuses on a young family of three. Jesse (Ethan Embry) is a metalhead painter with an eye for the macabre, but he’s also a loving father who’s taken up tedious commissions in order to make ends meet. His love of thundering guitar riffs has been passed on to his daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), who adores her dad and is hardly seen without a black metal tee. Jesse’s wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) rounds out the family, keeping the other two centered and with a silent strength of her own. After the family purchases a new home, one secluded on the outskirts of Austin, strange things being to happen. Jesse begins seeing visions and is driven to create unsettling works of art, while an unexpected guest shows up at the family’s door. The mystery guest turns out to be Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a previous inhabitant of their new home who suffered the death of his parents under mysterious circumstances. After their first encounter, things take a sharp turn, and it’s apparent that there’s more at play than what meets the eye.

By all accounts, the film feels as if it was led and created by the director’s favorite metal mixtape. Sonically and thematically, it plays out like a selection of great songs steeped with twisted turns, a slick sense of unease and even some well timed gore. Still, the power of it all is how Byrne pulls supernatural torment from satanic posturing, focusing on a malevolent force that can turn what we love against us. It’s here that Byrne’s film comes alive, giving us a family to root for while systematically tearing them apart from the inside out. The devils within each of us turn out to be just as sinister as any mythically horned creature, allowing Byrne to turn an eye towards ideas we can’t see. Underneath it all, the film touches upon the tension between inspiration and madness, passion and fanaticism, finding how each of these opposites attract and overlap in many ways.

The performances help to elevate the story, which, although satisfying, does dance around its fair share of ambiguity. As the anchor of his family, Ethan Embry carries the film on his back as Jesse. Endearing, determined and a genuinely good guy, Embry breaks down metalhead stereotypes with haunting conviction and a surprising physicality. The actor continues to surprise with every new role, delivering a mature character who is more than a caricature. As Jesse’s daughter, Zooey, Kiara Glasco gets a fun role, a rowdy teen who yearns to be a rockstar but also isn’t a generic misfit like most characters of this type. Glasco nails a few of the film’s pivotal moments and really helps to sell its genuine father-daughter backbone. As the family matriarch, Shiri Appleby’s Astrid gets a short staff, but still brings nuance and a stoicism to the role. Lastly, Pruitt Taylor Vince’s tortured Ray is the story’s unsettling wildcard, with this shifty eyes and a pain we empathize with, even if we’re simultaneously appalled. The film’s contrast between allure and deceit is what Vince embody’s so perfectly.

Come for the chugging riffs, stay for the film’s emotional backbone and depiction of existential horror. In the end, The Devil’s Candy has just enough weight to keep us interested, going beyond just a metal remake of The Amityville Horror with a resonant human perspective. But hey, if all you want is some loud guitar riffs and a fair share of blood, the film will deliver and then some, featuring its own sense of singular style. Though it could’ve gone a bit further and there are some threads that don’t fully connect, Byrne’s latest lives up to its name, a sinister cinematic confection with bite and some killer tunes.

SG