As someone who loves metal music and has really grown to appreciate horror, it would make sense that the former’s satanic history would mix really well with something dark and ominous. Sadly, most horror directors can’t seem to incorporate metal without some heavy-handed winks and nods, and extraneous amounts of gore. The films that nail the mix do it sparingly, and can’t seem to go longer than one scene before turning into schlock and over-the-top violence. The Devil’s Candy marries the two arts in something that not only works as a really great exercise in tension and horror, but also as a companion piece to the loud and rumbling hum of a low-tuned, distorted guitar.
What makes The Devil’s Candy more than just Satan taking control of someone and making them kill people, is the way the film employs the devil. He isn’t someone who makes you do something, but gives you a taste of what you want in order to seduce you. Jesse (Ethan Embry) is a painter that needs to make ends meet, especially now that him and his family have moved into a house that they can barely afford. The good news is that they got it at a very low price compared to other houses. The bad news? A woman and her husband were killed there. Fortunately, Jesse finds a new muse in the form of Satan, who possesses him to make a hellish and tormented painting, but one that will likely net him some worthwhile cash.
The Devil’s Candy spends a lot of time hammering home the fact that Satan is an obstacle that must be dealt with at some point in life. From an art dealer that tells Jesse to put his art over his own daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco), to the chilling and creepy Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) that wants his house back. Satan is everywhere, and it doesn’t help that Jesse and his daughter have formed a bond over their passion for metal music. But that relationship is also what holds this entire film together so neatly.
Metal is the reason this movie seems to exist, as it constantly throws licensed music at you like Metallica, and Zooey’s wall full of metal posters. The only person in their lives that isn’t the biggest fan is Jesse’s wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby). A beautiful scene that cements the entire relationship of the family happens early on as Jesse and Zooey blast their music extremely loud on a car ride, synchronizing their headbanging. Then Astrid politely asks to turn it down, and no one gets mad at her or judges her, they simply accept her tastes. It feels like the characters relationships are not being established in the film, but instead reminding the audience that these are people that have lived before the events of this film begin.
Metal lives in the veins of The Devil’s Candy, as well as in the fabric of its characters. With additional music by drone metal band Sunn O))), a constant hum of droning guitars builds the atmosphere as characters get whisked away under moments of possession. What Sean Byrne has done is make the soundtrack for this film feel alive – representative of something evil that can be tamed and not inherently frightening. Insanity builds as guitars drone on.
It would be difficult to not bring up the fact that Byrne owes a lot of the atmosphere of this film to Simon Chapman, who brings a sense of beauty to the terrifying images and sense of dread. His previous collaborations with Byrne were well-shot, but this works together so well with the notion of confronting evil, that it once again brings The Devil’s Candy into another echelon of well-made horror. It’s a slow moving film with plenty of time for beauty, but the camera is never afraid to turn something terrifying into hope.
This is expertly made horror that works because everything feels like it is living off the other. It can lean a bit too much into the religious territory sometimes, but it generally does so to make the notion of Satan more palpable without bringing some crazy supernatural elements into the field. Though it carries some absurd moments, it isn’t that kind of movie. The Devil’s Candy is a film that needs to be grounded enough to feel real, which makes its final conclusion both satisfying and thematically brilliant.
Screening courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival