Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Directed by: Brandon McCormick
Starring: Doug Jones, Mattie Liptak
Fairy tales. We all grew up with them, mostly thanks to Walt Disney. Some of us remember that the original fairy tales, especially those written or collected by the Brothers Grimm, were excursions in horror, passing along their morality tales via journeys through the darkest parts of the world.
The Candy Shop is that kind of fairy tale. A parable, if you will, to pass along a larger, darker truth in a way that makes it palatable for public consumption. The naked truth, well, no one would want to watch it. Instead we have an allegory about a candy shop in the Depression era, and the struggle over a boy’s very soul.
Jimmy (Mattie Liptak) is a newspaper vendor for a produce stand during the darkest part of the Depression in an unnamed US city. His mother is ill, again, and he has no father. As he works hard to sell his papers to support them both, he notices a new shop across from his stand. The Candy Shop.
Every morning men line up outside waiting for it to open. When the owner appears and opens the door, they shuffle in quickly, seemingly in a hurry to get out of sight before anyone notices.
What are they buying? Why would grown men be so interested in candy? And why do little girls go into the shop…and never come back out?
Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) plays a Willy Wonka from hell itself as the owner of the shop. You see, this short film is about the sexual trafficking of children, and the candy this brightly-painted demon creates is made from pretty little girls and sold to men who cannot resist their basest natures.
The film is Jimmy’s tale. The owner can offer him more money than he could possibly make selling papers, and a future for his sick mother…but it’ll cost Jimmy dearly. It’s all so simple, so easy, and so tempting…can he allow his mother to remain ill or even die just to serve his own sense of right and wrong?
The Candy Shop is the best short horror film I’ve ever seen. Period. Director McCormick has created something lyrical that still manages to chill to the bone. His cinematography combined with a powerful original score from Nicholas Kirk create a fanciful world for the story to live in with just enough dark shadows in the corners to feed the menace Doug Jones brings to the owner.
Oh Doug. I love Doug Jones, and I’m so glad to see him flex his talents without the burden of heavy latex or CGI. This is a tour-de-force for him. The role of the owner is pivotal here. He has to convey the wiles that those who sell candy use to lure in customers and ‘product’ alike, but also to continue the business with new recruits like Jimmy. It has to be believable, you have to understand why men would buy candy, why boys like Jimmy would be willing to throw the switch on the owner’s machine, and Jones sells every filthy dripping second of it. For such a completely revolting character to come out of a man widely known to be one of the sweetest and gentle souls in the business is a testament to his ability.
McCormick also draws incredible performances from his child actors, always a difficult task. The standout here is Abigail Monet as Nancy, a friend of Jimmy’s who eventually has a run-in with the owner. I can’t remember the last time I saw a girl this young turn in a performance with this much raw shame and emotion behind it, but it likely involves the name ‘Jodie Foster’. Your heart breaks for her from the very first moment she steps on screen due to the subtlety of her performance. If there’s justice in the world, we’ll see more of her in the future.
The message of the film is powerful when it could have been heavy-handed. It’s touching when it could have been syrupy-sweet. It’s chilling when it could have been over-the-top. You feel like someone has coated your soul with a thin sheen of greasy scum by the end of the half-hour running time, but in the end there is hope…for some.
I’m not going to lie, tears were shed before the credits rolled. I’m not a ‘crier’ for fictional stories. I could watch Old Yeller while eating popcorn and casually checking my e-mail. This one…watching the softly suggested devastation at the end…if it doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one. One line: ‘these couldn’t be turned back’ will leave you gutted.
Watch The Candy Shop at Whitestone Motion Pictures’ Website Go to www.stopthecandyshop.com and do what you can to make this nothing but a fairy tale of days gone by, and not what it is now: an all-too-real allegory of pain, shame, and destruction. Everyone loses in the Candy Shop: buyers, sellers, and ‘product’. The only people who win are those who watch this absolutely perfect gem of a film.
5 out of 5
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