Starring Mathilde Lamusse and Mériem Sarolie
Written by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s latest genre feature, Kandisha, has a great hook. After a late-night assault by her ex-boyfriend, Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) inadvertently (well, rather intentionally, actually) summons the spirit of Aïsha Kandisha (Mériem Sarolie), an avenging demon rooted in Moroccan myth and legend. Kandisha soon begins to target the men in Amélie’s life, and after several deaths, shows no intention of stopping. It rests on Amélie and her two best friends, Bintou (Suzy Bemba) and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) to stop her before everyone close to them is dead.
Intermittently, the pleasures of Kandisha start and stop at its premise. Emigrating the urban chills of Candyman to a distinctly French setting, while expanding the cast and adding an astute female angle, works. Kandisha is a magnificently designed boogeyman, one rendered more terrifying the more central she figures in the narrative. Initially shrouded in shadows and cloaked in black gauze, Kandisha’s true form is slowly unraveled, and it’s perfectly pitched, just the right balance of human and monstrous. With hooved legs and a seductively frightening visage, Kandisha’s look is the best thing about her, and for all the obvious Candyman parallels, does enough to distinguish this mythic monster from her ancillary peers.
It’s a shame, then, that she feels like window dressing in her own story. Kandisha is a menace that exists mostly on the periphery of her own narrative, often manifesting for a kill before disappearing again. Worse still, beyond the obvious roots as a demon that uniquely targets men, there’s little social gravitas to the legend. Though rooted in Islamic folklore, Kandisha is poorly developed, never mining the deep wells of social anxiety and unease that Tony Todd’s portrayal of Candyman did three decades ago. Not every monster needs quite that much depth, but the foundation is there, though woefully underexplored.
It’s a common occurrence in Bustillo and Maury’s recent genre offerings. After a sensational debut with Inside, still one of the scariest films released this century, their follow-up efforts have been frustratingly shy of great. Among the Living has a great central conceit let down by truly baffling internal logic, while Leatherface is anchored by exceptional performances but little idea of how to sufficiently further the Texas Chainsaw mythos.
Still, like their earlier work, Kandisha looks and sounds great. Even better, the pair’s French New Wave extremism hasn’t waned at all in the fourteen years since Inside’s release. The violence here is swift, brutal, and gloriously realized, with several on-screen deaths liable to produce a wince from even the most hardened genre veterans. The performances, too, are good, with Suzy Bemba and Mathilde Lamusse pulling most of the weight. The naturalism grounds the emotional stakes and helps to overshadow some (conventional) lapses in logic. Why would you follow that Moroccan demon into the hallway, anyway?
Kandisha is a slimy, uber-violent, and refreshingly naturalistic supernatural slasher that coasts along just shy of being something great. Elevated scares– including a shocking third act kill– are as common as cumbersome and impenetrable rituals and narrative resets. The girls fear for their safety, someone is killed, an establishing shot shows paramedics rolling a body away, repeat. Still, for a late-summer supernatural blood fest, Kandisha retains enough original DNA, alongside a smattering of Bustillo and Maury’s trademark brutality, to work. Not as scary as it could have been, there’s enough here to warrant turning the lights down low, scrawling a pentagram on the wall, and repeating her name. Kandisha. Kandisha. Kandisha.
Kandisha is an uneven yet super violent foray into Moroccan myth.