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.
Horror

★★★★1/2
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.

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A Lonely Girl Takes Sweet Revenge in The Loved Ones

The Loved Ones. 2009. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Andrew S. Gilbert, Suzi Dougherty, Victoria Eagger, Anne Scott-Pendlebury, Fred Whitlock, & Leo Taylor. Screen Australia/Omnilab Media/Ambience Entertainment/Film Victoria.
Rated R. 84 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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The number of films where women are kidnapped and subjected to the vile torture of misogynistic men is uncountable. How many, even worse, take on the rape-revenge angle whilst requiring a man to take revenge for the women, as if she were some helpless child? Well, for once, there’s a (g00d) film which subverts the expectations of the sub-genre: The Loved Ones. Within a typical framework, writer-director Sean Byrne crafts an emotional, darkly comic, gruesome horror-thriller out of eerie performances and outright nastiness. However, nothing in this is simply made to shock. The plot takes us on a twisty-turny journey, even if the outcome isn’t entirely unexpected. But that’s the mark of a great movie sometimes when it takes an archetypal setup, something we’ve all seen time and time again, and turns everything on its head. Perhaps what I love most is that the antagonist, the villain of this horror is a woman. She holds no quarter, either. Her brutality is equal to if not more than a man’s and she has no problem showing it off. Along the way we’re treated to other atypical bits of plot, as well as a wonderfully twisted sense of storytelling. And I’ll be damned if the visual style of the film isn’t groovy.
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Brent (Xavier Samuel) is learning to drive. His father is in the seat next to him, singing along to tunes on the radio. They laugh and joke, they poke fun at one another. But when Brent looks away for a moment to his father, a bloody young man with a large heart and two letters carved into his chest wanders across the road. Brent swerves and they hit a tree.
After his father’s death, Brent finds it hard to cope, both with his own terrible guilt, and the brutal emotions of his mother. Although, he does have a girlfriend named Holly (Victoria Thaine), and she provides a much needed refuge for him, plus there’s his good friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) who sticks by his side.
But one day while out smoking weed and off in his own world, Brent is abducted. He wakes up to Lola (Robin McLevy) and her father (John Brumpton). That day, he had to turn down Lola when she asked him to prom. Now it seems as if she and ‘Daddy’ have their own plans. Along with a rotating disco ball, paper crowns, fried chicken, knives, and even a power drill, Brent is about to have his own prom with Lola.
A night he’ll never forget. Especially when he finds out what they’re hiding in the basement.
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We see our main character seemingly express a deathwish by hanging back from a cliff’s edge, as if daring himself to let go. But when he slips slightly, barely regaining traction to keep himself hanging on, it’s evident he doesn’t actually want to die. Just a nice little early touch I found enjoyable, which added to his character in a perfect way. You can see how caught between living life and feeling guilty he is, and it so obviously wracks him constantly with a pain of indecision; he can’t tell whether to be guilty, or to move on, which any of us obviously would after losing a parent in a car crash that was, sort of, your fault. Watching him struggle between the two ends of the spectrum is difficult, but only in the way we feel heavy emotions for his character from the start. More than that, he ends up in the worst fight of his life later on, so to see his self-imposed near (possible) death juxtaposed with the very real threat of death put upon him by Lola and Daddy, it’s an interesting contrast to say the least. Then you add the fact Brent feels the guilt of his father’s death, he probably did want to die. That all changes once he’s placed into the hands of others who will, no doubt, bring about that death. Without spoiling anything, the stakes get even higher, much larger once Brent discovers a few more things later on.
Xavier Samuel isnt someone I’ve seen much of. Though, the few times I have seen his performances I’ve always enjoyed them – for instance, Bait wasn’t even a good movie, highly average, and I still thought he played well in it. But here, as Brent, he brings out the range required. Impressive performance. His ability to play the depressed and devastated side of Brent is easily seen, almost immediately in the first frame after his father dies. Then, once things at Lola’s house get more and more serious, he brings out the anger and the tormented rage inside him that’s been boiling for so long, and it unleashes onto the screen.
Still, even with John Brumpton doing awesome work as her Daddy, the star of the show is Robin McLeavy’s Lola. The only other thing I’ve seen her in is the AMC series Hell on Wheels, and she does a fantastic job there, too. But Lola – what a piece of work! Imagine Jeffrey Dahmer, except as a teenage girl, and she’s got a strange psychosexual relationship happening with her father, and VOILA! C’est Lola! McLeavy is totally twisted. Her presence at the beginning, in that first scene asking Brent to prom, is wildly unassuming. Even with her on the cover of the film looking ominous, you still don’t get any of that from her initial appearance; she seems like an innocent, sweet little thing. Slowly, McLeavy brings out her manic side with all she’s got. Her danger is evident, crystal clear with each frame after the next, after the next. She becomes this unstoppable force, almost like a female Michael Myers, walking through the fields and stalking towards her next prey. So to see the savage finale it was a real treat. Never once does Byrne treat Lola as a woman, in the sense that he doesn’t act like he has to be delicate with this character simply due to her gender. He takes her all the way through to every deadly little conclusion instead of prancing around the details, whittling away at her character to try and make her sympathetic. She’s one of the most unsympathetic horror characters I’ve seen in ages, and each time I see this film I’m always amazed at how perfectly Lola is written, really giving us a subversion of the expected tropes in the genre. For once, a woman gets to be the true slasher-style villain. And does it ever kick fucking ass.

One of my favourite horror-thrillers in the past decade. A 4&1/2-star affair. It is never apologetic and always at its finest, most gruesome form. The Loved Ones takes the typical kidnapping-torture sub-genre and does something interesting with it, instead of trying to go over and over the same territory. It certainly hits familiar notes, it’s not the most revolutionary thriller to come out. But it has heart, as well as a touch of ingenuity. Plus, as I said, there are never any apologies, in the sense that Sean Byrne goes for broke, he treats his female killer the same way he would if the character were male. And these are the types of things I like to see in horror. When we can treat genders separately in terms of their stories yet equally in terms of their stature as weighty characters, horror (or any genre for that matter) only gets better. It’s a change, and change is good. Check out The Loved Ones – it’s a brutish romp through an old neighbourhood, with a different spin, lots of bloody goodness, and the candy coated visuals make this dark subject shine.