Back in 2009, director Sean Byrne stunned festival audiences with his dark and thrilling horror film The Loved Ones. After a brief absence, Byrne is back without losing a single step. Once again proving that he destined to have a bright future as a filmmaker, his latest tension filled work, The Devil’s Candy, is both heart-pounding to sit through and visually scrumptious to look at. To quote one of the characters in the film, Byrne’s work can easily be described as “wonderfully disturbing.”
Fuelled by a pumping metal soundtrack, The Devil’s Candy offers a unique take on the haunted-house genre tropes. The film focuses on an artist named Jesse (Ethan Embry) whose love for painting and heavy metal music are second only to his love for his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and daughter, Zooey (Kiara Glasco). After taking on a few commission jobs, that are not challenging artistically but pay the bills, Jesse and Astrid are finally able to purchase the dream home they always wanted. Upon finding the perfect place, complete with space for an art studio, the family learns that the cheaper than normal price is related to the fact that an elderly coupled died in the home.
Shortly after taking ownership of the home, Jesse begins to hear the faint but haunting chants of Satan himself. While it inspires him to create some of his most compelling paintings yet, he struggles to make sense of the disturbing images he is unconsciously producing. As if coping with Jesse’s sudden mental lapses was not bad enough, the arrival of a mysterious and unhinged Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) complicates matters for the family further. Claiming to be the son of the deceased couple, Ray, who is also hearing the same voices in his head as Jesse, is determined to “return home” at all costs.
Expanding on the notion that the devil often works through us when we let him in, Byrne presents a film that literally keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat until the very end. Instead of rushing from one moment to the next, Byrne draws out the tension by simply waiting. By providing the audience with more time to reflect on a scene, and sustaining the pulsing intensity, Byrne creates a thrilling, and often terrifying, level of unpredictability in the film. The audience is never sure which characters will survive the nightmarish experience The Devil’s Candy presents. He further keeps them off-balance by injecting plenty of moments of genuine humour, which ultimately lures the viewer into a false sense of comfort.
As one would expect with a film called The Devil’s Candy, religious iconography is featured prominently throughout the work. A simple shot of a red cross painted on the stained-glass window on Jesse’s front door, with the Satanic chants slowly building, sends shivers up the spine. The same can be said for the unsettling sequences where Ray sits in his motel room watching a televangelist preach about the ways of the Satan while preparing to provide another sacrifice for his master. Despite the heavy religious undertones, The Devil’s Candy never feels like a simple tale of good and evil. Similar to the upside down crucifix hanging in Ray’s former room, Byrne wants to flip viewer’s expectations.
Taking the audience to the Devil’s version of church, where demonic tongues easily penetrate weak souls and the choral hymns are replace by rocking metal anthems, Byrne crafts another fun and unnerving romp with The Devil’s Candy. Beautifully shot and genuinely chilling, this is the type of candy that horror fans will gladly endure a cavity for.
Saturday, September 19, 1:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.