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Devil’s Candy, The (Blu-ray)

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Devils Candy

Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kiara Glasco

Directed by Sean Byrne

Distributed by Scream Factory


There aren’t many instances when a new horror film not only catches me off guard with originality, but also is able to crawl under my skin and make my viewing experience uncomfortable. The first time I saw director Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones (2009), it produced an unexpected visceral reaction. The off-kilter comedy combined with gut-wrenching horror quickly shot it to the top of my recommendation list for that year. Since then, I have been patiently waiting to see what Byrne next had in store for audiences. And now that time has come as his latest endeavor, The Devil’s Candy (2015), finally hits Blu-ray after making the requisite festival rounds. There are many aspects of the picture that appeal directly to my interests – metal, murder, Satan – but a truncated running time and a lack of deeper exploration hobbles the film. The worst offense, however, is what really shocked me: a cop-out ending that robs the audience of profound emotional impact that is delivered and then reneged.

In a quaint home deep in the Texas countryside, former mental patient Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) stands alone in his room, loudly strumming a red Flying V guitar to produce droning tones intended to drown out “Him”; a voice in his head that forces Ray to perform horrifying acts. When Ray’s mother enters the room to check on her disturbed son, complaining he needs to return to the sanitarium, he whacks her upside the head with the guitar. A similar fate befalls his father when he returns home. Not long after this incident, the house is on the market for dirt cheap and struggling artist Jesse (Ethan Embry) puts in an offer, looking to give his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) more room to breathe. The family moves in and it isn’t long before a strange, unseen force begins to infiltrate Jesse’s mind.

This isn’t exactly such a bad thing. Jesse has been destitute, scraping to get by for some time, and the voice he hears puts him into a fugue state, wherein he paints graphic, dark images that appeal to his dream art dealer, Leonard (Tony Amendola), who runs the elite, macabre gallery Belial. Later that night, Ray stops by his old homestead and speaks with Zooey through the screen door, trying to get permission to enter the home. Jesse less-than-politely asks him to leave. The next morning, Jesse and Zooey find a red flying V outside the front door; the exact same guitar Ray was discussing with Zooey the night before. At home, Jesse gets lost in his own head painting a gargantuan mural of screaming children being swallowed up by a giant black creature. Zooey is among them, screaming and aflame. Later that night, Ray breaks into the family home and tells Zooey that “He” wants him to hurt her, but Ray is trying to resist the calling. A scream alerts Jesse and Astrid, and Ray vanishes into the night. But all is not quiet on the home front yet, and Ray’s sadistic impulses eventually become too powerful to ignore.

First off, The Devil’s Candy got me extremely excited when I saw the soundtrack listing, which includes killer metal classics from Metallica and Pantera. Adding to the metal cred is score work by drone legends Sunn O))), who provide the monotone riffs which Ray slowly belts out during his “drowned out sounds” phases. Rarely are songs by these groups licensed for feature film use, and hearing them in a new picture added a dose of ‘80s/’90s nostalgia that instantly hooked me. And trust me, your subwoofer will never get a better subterranean workout than when Sunn O)))’s monolithic riffs are pouring through like sludgy molasses.

Byrne’s festival cut of the film ran for 90 minutes, while this home video version runs a tighter 79 minutes – and it isn’t exactly for the best. There are glimpses of greatness in here; suggestions of a richer plot that never manages to fully materialize. Why does Ray hear these voices? The story suggests he’s insane, but then if Jesse begins to hear these voices, too, why? What is it about this location that culls forth something demonic? The dynamic between Jesse and Astrid feels off as well, and it left me scratching my head wondering how these two not only wound up together but also have managed to stay intact as a family unit. Apparently, the longer cut deepened these relationships so I am unclear as to why additional complexities were nixed. Even Leonard and his Belial collective seem to have more lurking beneath the surface, though this, too, is oddly handled. The 79-minute cut feels like a truncated version of a 100-minute movie.

But that isn’t the film’s biggest sin; that honor goes to its inability to make tough decisions and stick to them. Ray is a character who is extremely dangerous, but he looks and acts like someone who is benign and relatively harmless. Even Jesse simply dismisses him during their first encounter. When Ray snaps and decides to give in to the mounting pressure from “Him” to abduct and kill Zooey, that’s when the film takes a very dark turn.

SPOILERS AHEAD…

There is a moment late in the film when Ray enters the family home, shoots Jesse and Astrid and snatches Zooey, intent on burning the house down with the two of them inside. In that moment, when Jesse lay “dead” and Astrid is presumed dead in the next room, my stomach was in knots. Byrne had taken the film in a horrid direction, with main characters paying the ultimate price and virtually no sign of help on the way for Zooey. It felt dire. But then Astrid crawled out from the room, clinging to life. Ok, sure, I can buy that. And then Jesse somehow managed to not only come back to life, but also climb the outside of a burning home to rescue his daughter and defeat Ray. It felt contrived and cheap, qualities that were absent in The Loved Ones. This was disappointing. After such a slow-burn buildup to Ray’s ultimate act of demonic devotion, Byrne chopped his film off at the knees and crippled it permanently.

END SPOILERS.

In the end, I still enjoyed The Devil’s Candy though for reasons highlighted above it may not hold much replay value. The story is engrossing and much of that is thanks to Vince’s unnerving portrayal of a man not in control of his own mind or actions. Exposition didn’t need to be beaten into the story, though a bit more backstory on some of the “whys” might have enriched the script. It’s frustrating, really, because the elements for success are present but Byrne never manages to expand intriguing details into salient plot points.

The 2.40:1 1080p image is a beaut, that’s for sure. The dimly lit opening displays strong shadow delineation, allowing minute frame elements to remain in focus. Once day breaks, the picture is razor sharp and colors are boldly represented. Black levels are nice and inky, with few moments of wavering into hazy territory. Contrast is equally strong. Fire seen in the last act glows bright, CGI as it may be. Red is a predominant hue throughout and it appears striking alongside the subtler, dusty palette used for the majority of the film.

METAL! The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (or 2.0) surround sound track sonically assaults viewers with a crunching cacophony of riffage, as all-timer classics by metal bands pump through the speakers. And as mentioned before, the monotonous riffs produced by Sunn O))) will make your subwoofer sweat from the workout. There is a proper score here, too, that is comprised of keyboard melodies. Dialogue is always clear and clean, never buried under the punishing sound mix. Subtitles are included in English and Spanish.

An audio commentary with director Sean Byrne has been included.

“Behind the Scenes – Visual Effects” – This brief piece focuses on achieving the fire effects seen during the film’s climax, with before-and-after shots showing the progression of effects.

Advantage Satan is a short film Byrne directed in 2007, which runs for just over 10 minutes.

A music video is included, featuring clips from the film set to Goya’s “Blackfire”.

An art gallery shows off some of the sketches and paintings done by “Jesse” as seen in the film.

A theatrical trailer is also included.

Special Features:

  • Commentary with director Sean Byrne
  • Behind-the-Scenes Visual Effects
  • “Advantage Satan” Short Film
  • Music Video
  • Art Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

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  • The Devil's Candy
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.23 (13 votes)

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