The Devil’s Candy is an American horror film written and directed by Sean Byrne. The film stars Ethan Embry as Jesse Hellman, a painter and heavy-metal music enthusiast. His daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), shares his passion for “hardcore” music, while his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), can’t really relate to the satanic lyrics and gothic personas. Jesse struggles to sell his art, and has been forced to take on more commercial projects that give him little creative freedom, most recently to paint a series of butterflies for a bank. While searching for a new house, their realtor introduces the family to a country home, informing them that the former residents died there. The Hellman’s purchase the house anyway and after moving in, Jesse starts hearing voices that seem to come from the house itself. They inspire Jesse to paint very dark, satanic imagery, which he hardly remembers painting after the fact. He takes his new painting to an art gallery where his work had previously been rejected, and the receptionist shows great interest in his new work. While the family adjusts to their mysterious new home and Jesse tries to make sense of the voices, a mentally disturbed man named Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who enjoys playing his electric guitar at an extremely high volume, begins a murder spree near the Hellman’s property. When Ray shows up at the their doorstep, it becomes clear that he has a special connection with the house, and harbors a deranged fascination with Zooey.
While not perfect, The Devil’s Candy is a surprisingly well-crafted film that doesn’t succumb to some of the more obvious and tired tropes of the horror genre. Even though Satan has served as the primary antagonist in a plethora of horror films, this one somehow feels fresh and interesting. In some ways it seems to pay homage to Rob Zombie’s films, though it is noticeably less grotesque. Jesse is the typical long-haired, grungy, hard rock-loving protagonist, and the film draws familiar connections between hard rock music and Satanism. But despite having an engaging and relatively unique take on the satanic horror sub genre, there are times when The Devil’s Candy feels a little too familiar. The overall plot structure resembles the style and narrative of any given episode of Law & Order: SVU, insofar as there is a mentally disturbed man committing horrible acts, who then turns his attention to a young teenage girl. It doesn’t really take away from the film per se, but it would have been better had the film not used such a banal and antiquated view of mental illness to set up the horror.
Embry’s performance as the offbeat dad and struggling artist is admirable, but the script never allows him to be much more than a necessary, but unspectacular catalyst for moving the plot along. Much of the story is dedicated to the dynamic between Jesse and Zooey, which is somewhat unfortunate, as it puts too much emphasis on the idea that females are generally helpless and need to be saved by “real” men. It also doesn’t help that Kiara Glasco gives an abysmal performance. The story relies on her to provide much of the emotion and operate at the center of the tense and horrific moments, but every part of her performance rings untrue and half-hearted. Nonetheless, the horrific elements of the story are enhanced by our desire to see the close-knit family survive, and Zooey is a necessary element of this dynamic, so in that sense she fulfills her role in the story, albeit poorly.
In short, The Devil’s Candy is a very entertaining and intriguing addition to the satanic horror genre. It’s a shame that some of the acting distracts from an otherwise solid, relatively low budget film, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is certainly worth watching. If you’re a fan of satanic horror, or of the broader genre, I highly recommend checking out The Devil’s Candy.
Rating: ★★★½ out of 5
The Devil’s Candy is available to rent or purchase via Amazon here.