If you’re the type of movie geek who pays close attention to independent and/or foreign horror films, then you’ve probably seen The Loved Ones by now. The feature film debut from Australian filmmaker Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones enjoyed an award-winning festival run in 2009 before being unceremoniously dumped onto DVD by Paramount. Suffice to say the film deserved a whole lot better, but here’s some good news: Mr. Byrne is back with a new horror flick and, like The Loved Ones, it’s really quite impressive.
The Devil’s Candy is about an amiable family (mom, dad, teenage daughter) who move into a creepy old farmhouse, and slowly come to realize that something nefarious also resides there. If that sounds like a pretty basic premise — not to mention one you’ve probably seen in a dozen different horror flicks — you’ll be pleased to know that Mr. Byrne piles on all sort of new angles, hooks, and themes. The Devil’s Candy works as a possession thriller, a serial killer story, and a haunted house tale all at the same time, but it also stands on its own as a refreshingly original spin on some potentially familiar tropes.
Ethan Embry provides a great performance as a hard-rockin’ artist with a lovely wife (Shiri Appleby) and an equally metal-obsessed daughter (Kiara Glasco), and it’s the early interplay between the family unit that gives The Devil’s Candy a welcome foundation of character. Considering how quickly things go horribly wrong in this story, those little splashes of character development prove to be absolutely essential. No sooner have Jesse and his family moved into their new home that A) creepy sounds are heard, B) horrific nightmares are experienced, and C) the (plainly psychotic) former owner of the house drops by for a visit.
The scary stuff comes from a bunch of different angles in The Devil’s Candy, and Byrne seems to be have a good time subverting our expectations on all of it. Suffice to say that the haunted house, the creepy psycho, and ominous portents of Satanism start out as basic tropes you’d find in just about any horror story, but it’s how they manage to congeal in Act III that makes the screenplay so slyly impressive. The Devil’s Candy offers everything from basic “jump scares” to high-end suspense to darkly disturbing thematic dread, and it coasts along at an admirably brisk clip. Embry, Appleby, and Glasco are fantastic throughout; even Pruitt Taylor Vince, who has played psychos numerous times before, brings a new level of creepiness to his repertoire.
The Devil’s Candy isn’t quite as shocking or as humorously twisted as The Loved Ones, but it does stand as evidence that Sean Byrne is intent on bringing a novel approach to potentially familiar themes, concepts, and horror tropes. Given the guy’s focus on character, craftsmanship, and novel creepiness, it’s obvious that Byrne is a genre filmmaker watch. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another five years for his next flick.
Rating: 4 strangely familiar but terrifying burritos out of 5
The Devil’s Candy premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was screened for review at Fantastic Fest.
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