Heavy Metal Possession in THE DEVIL’S CANDY

The Devil’s Candy. 2017. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, & Kiara Glasco.
Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 79 minutes.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.56.09 AMSean Byrne’s debut feature The Loved Ones rocked me in 2009. It was unique and horrifying. I knew he’d give us more terror eventually. Although I didn’t think it would take another 6 years. When you wait that long and the product ends up being something altogether eerie, you thank a writer-director who so obviously digs the genre.
The Devil’s Candy gives us equal parts beauty and horror. There’s heavy metal, there’s painting, there’s a troubled father-daughter relationship and a fun family at the centre of the plot. There’s also three excellent performances from Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, and one of the great unsung character actors possibly every, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
What’s most exciting about Byrne’s follow-up feature is the take on possession. So many horrors out there try to do the sub-genre justice by giving their own take on the concept of demonic possession, but many of those slip into the pitfalls of a typical Exorcist rip-off. Byrne avoids that by going a whole other route, bringing the supernatural straight into collision with utterly human, family drama with an innovative twist.
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I always love when demonic possession is more than some poor, helpless young person is seized by the devil, flopping around on the floor or speaking another language or contorting into a weird human-limbed spider. A possession story becomes something else entirely when the demonic influence helps the possessed acquire wealth (fame/anything similar). This makes the character of Jesse’s (Embry) paintings like an unwitting, unspoken pact with the devil.
On the other side is Ray (Vince), whose encounter with Satan is entirely different. He’s a man with mental difficulties to begin, then he has to contend with the voice of the devil whispering in his ear. Whereas Jesse sort of takes it like a voice of inspiration, if not a sinister one, for Ray it’s like torture.
Heavy metal is the link. While Jesse listens to metal, as he paints and driving with his daughter Zooey (Glasco), Ray uses it as a means of drowning out the voice of Satan in his head. He plays the guitar, a flying V in fact, strumming deep, droning, distorted chords, which doesn’t just make his house unpleasant, it eventually draws the police. Just a whole mess of things going on, all of which add to the atmosphere of terror.
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Embry and I follow one another on Twitter. I asked him if he was wearing a Sunn O))) shirt, which he confirmed, and he also told me that, he believes, the voice of Satan here is likewise provided by the band.
Brings me to one of the things I find so unsettling about the film – the sound design. At certain moments we hear the low, rumbling voice of Satan speaking to his pawns. It’s the absolute perfect voice. Sort of rattles your bones listening to it. Along with Ray’s power chords, the heavy metal soundtrack, the sound design and the voice itself are part of the dreadful feeling the film evokes at every turn.
The storytelling is a large part of The Devil’s Candy‘s success as a horror that works hard to unnerve its audience, frame by frame, building to a roar. In parallel, we watch the stories of Ray and Jesse, like opposite ends of a spectrum. Then the paintings Jesse creates in a fugue of possession reflect the actions and events in Ray’s life, giving the parallel plots a whole new level of meaning.
A favourite scene of mine is the montage sequence of the painting Jesse works on. The paint, the brushes, the sloppy wet sounds of them together – these are, again, paralleled with the sounds of Ray with his wet mop sloshing around, soaking up blood. The whole sequence is amazingly edited. On top of that the score and the sound design make it chilling.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.56.06 AMByrne does a fantastic job providing us with an alternative story about possession and occult horror. Not saying he’s reinvented the wheel. But god damn me to hell if he doesn’t offer up a horror that doesn’t take the same old beaten path. Peppered with equally fantastic performances, The Devil’s Candy is a personal favourite of mine since 2000.
A huge selling point is the chemistry between Embry and Glasco. Their relationship as father and daughter is strained, though not past the point of no return. There’s a breaking point, yes. And that plays its own part in their relationship. What I dig is that they’re so natural. Embry’s not that old, so his character comes off as this hip guy who hasn’t exactly reconciled his hipness with also being a father; he’s a good dad, not perfect, and tries his best. For her part, Glasco plays the daughter well and her emotional range as an actress stacks up well against her adult counterparts.
From Sunn O))) in all forms – t-shirt, voice of Satan, soundtrack – to Embry and Glasco, as well as Pruitt Taylor Vince doing a bang up job as a seasoned character actor, to Sean Byrne and his atmospheric directing, The Devil’s Candy does what it sets out to do: unsettle and terrify. You don’t have to piss your pants to find something scary. What I find most unsettling about the film is the presentation of the devil’s influence, as something that simply cannot be stopped – won’t be stopped. And for once heavy metal isn’t the bringer of horror, it is a way for the horror to be evaded, a positive force between father and daughter. Underneath the possession stuff there’s a lot going on, too.


Vacancy: Motels and Psychos and Snuff, Oh My!

Vacancy. 2007. Directed by Nimród Antal. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith.
Starring Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry, & Scott Anderson. Screen Gems/Hal Lieberman Company.
Rated 14A. 85 minutes.

Some of the most effective horror movies go after basic fears. Certain films like Jaws prey on the general fear of something as simple as deep water, and what lies beneath; Spielberg used that to turn that story into a cinematic exercise in gruesome dread. Then there’s the supernatural horror sub-genre, which goes after everything from religious faith to the irrational though emotionally tangible torment of ghosts/demons/whatever. Horrific thrillers such as the amazing When A Stranger Calls and recently the creepy though uneven Emelie go for the jugular of everyday societal concerns, like worrying about the people with whom you’ve charged babysitting your children.
The 2007 horror-thriller Vacancy is effective to me because I’ve always found staying in a motel unnerving, even a hotel for that matter. Because first off, you’re sleeping where somebody else, many other somebodies of whom you’ve got no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve done, has also slept. Doesn’t matter how many times they change those sheets, things linger. And I’m not just talking about the nasty fluids people spill in hotels and motels all over the world. Not talking about ghosts either, but sometimes an unsettling atmosphere can permeate a place without being supernatural. Just the spectre of bad things, a scary history can make a place worrisome. Secondly, anybody working at a motel can walk right inside your room, at any given moment. Even someone who doesn’t necessarily have clearance to be messing around with room keys can still get their hands on one, if they work there. So the prospect of being in a room where any number of people potentially also have the key, not just you like it is at home, can itself be crushing.
Vacancy doesn’t always deliver. What it does is keep things eerie, uncertain, and tries its best to follow in the vein of the slasher sub-genre. And despite the mistakes, this is a fun little flick. It will suck you in if you’ve ever let those thoughts about motels creep into your brain, wondering if anything bad could happen in one of those places.
Well, bad things do happen. And Vacancy wants to show you some of them.
One thing I do admire about Mark L. Smith’s screenplay (same guy who mind bogglingly wrote The Revenant) is that instead of lumping a couple of standard victims into the mix, he opts to have the main protagonists be a divorcing married couple. Not like it’s reinventing the wheel of slasher horror, they aren’t the first couple of their type in a movie of this sort. But it makes for good tension between the two characters. Starting off, their whole time together is simply aggravating. You can feel the tension so quickly and without being force fed that the relationship between Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale feels pretty natural. Immediately their chemistry works, you get the sense this is a marriage deteriorating rapidly, on its way to smouldering ashes. And y’know, there’s some decent emotional resonance. The nearly divorced couple finds legitimate perspective on their marriage, the apparent loss of a child. Who wouldn’t when psychotic killers and a sinister motel owner are trying to put you in a snuff film? Sure, it’s a tad heavy handed. Not so much that it’s overwhelming, and that’s a forgiveable sin in my books.VACANCYPlus, aside from the tension between characters director Nimród Antal does a decent job drawing out the suspense and terror of Smith’s writing. At times it is most certainly cliche, and you’ll probably roll your eyes once and awhile. But there are genuinely scary horror moments, as well as a couple nasty slasher stabbings and, well… slashing. What I enjoy about Antal’s directorial choices are that he makes this (mostly)one-location thriller into an exciting, at times unpredictable horrorshow. In a space like the motel, with its parking lot and small row of rooms, there could easily be some boring, stagnant moments. For all its flaws, Vacancy is at least an exciting thrill ride for the majority of its swift 85 minutes. Antal and Smith craft their terror out of the claustrophobia of the solitary setting, as well as the aforementioned fears of motel living. Together, this is a nice recipe for slasher territory to be cooking with.
A nice addition to this sub-genre flick is Frank Whaley, a vastly overlooked actor that’s been in tons of stuff yet just doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s a solid character actor that I’ve enjoyed in a bunch of stuff (The DoorsRay Donovan, his directorial debut Joe the King). Here he’s a super creeper and injects an old timey Hollywood feel of horror with his character, while also being a sort of contemporary guy with his snuff film business out the back door of the motel.
There isn’t anything new in Vacancy. Sometimes there’s an over reliance on jump scares, which don’t effectively get me going personally. Only starts to piss me off eventually once there’s not enough genuine scares Although, its advantages lie in a decent screenplay, one that does well with a lonesome motel setting. Additionally, you’ve got Frank Whaley in a macabre role, alongside the decent pairing of Beckinsale and Wilson.
I can give this one 3&1/2-stars without feeling bad either way. It’s entertaining. There are actually a few good scares, including a bit of blood and nastiness, some fun editing and just as fun camera work. Chilling enough, you could do a lot worse for a popcorn horror flick on a rainy night.