The Devil’s Candy.
Director and Writer: Sean Byrne.
Actors: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, and Kiara Glasco.
The Loved Ones was one of the most famously hard to find movies out of the festival circuit in the 2009-2010 season. Director Sean Byrne has been away ever since, but thankfully he is back with The Devil’s Candy, which is his second movie and his first American production. It’s a much more coherent effort with amazing performances by the cast, and one of the heaviest soundtracks in recent memory with cuts by Pantera, Slayer, and a score by the drone metal legends, Sunn 0))).
The story revolves around a struggling metalhead artist, Jesse (Embry), who moves into a new huge house in rural Texas with his wife Astrid and his equally metal-obsesssed daughter, Zooey. As it goes, this also happens to be the site of a couple of murders, and of course, once they move into the house, Jesse’s work turns to the more macabre and disturbing. What’s worse is that the son of the former residents keeps coming around because the voice in his head is telling him to do some unpleasant things.
But this is not a simple haunted house movie. Byrne manages to employ his knowledge of horror to bring a much more interesting version of a story we’ve all seen before by mixing aspects of demonic possession, haunted house movies, and even early 00’s Japanese movies. And despite the fact that we still follow a nuclear family, the fact that it’s a young couple with a tattooed metalhead dad feels fresh because you don’t ever see those kinds of characters on screen.
Not only are the characters and their dynamics unique, but the plot itself is surprising. Most genre fans should be able to tell where the story is going but there are still a few left turns along the way that keep the movie compelling. Visually, the way that the Texas farmlands are shot it makes them a lot more scary even during the daylight. He also manages to get an amazing performance out of Embry, who thankfully has had a genre career revitalization in the last few years shedding his boyish charms and embracing something darker.
The movie’s themes about artistic ambition are some of the most interesting ones. As a struggling artist, Jesse tries his hardest to make ends meet and has to accept bland commissions for banks. But when he becomes more possessed and channels the dark energy of this spirit, his works are messed up but full of life, with him losing track of time. Any artist can relate to the freeing sensation, and the je ne sais quoi when you are just compelled to create something, and it flows from you as it if were instinctual.
Once he starts getting attention from a gallery owner, you see how unintentionally neglectful Jesse can get. This is the weakest part of the movie, if only because the gallery and its owner are such obvious “Satan” allegories, causing him to be late to pick up his daughter in order to secure a gallery show. You know that’s a huge deal because as you can see, Jesse has a huge bond with his daughter and it ends up being maybe one of the coolest dad-daughter relationships seen in a long time.
And while some of the visual symbolism might be a little too on the nose, it’s a tiny problem in an otherwise excellent movie with awesome cast and a creative story around it. He’s become a much more assertive director and the movie is the better for it. Look for the last shot of the movie and tell me it’s not a memorable scene.
With The Devil’s Candy, Sean Byrne shows that his time spent in between movies was not wasted. Let’s just hope that he comes back sooner than later.