Generally speaking, video streaming services are hit and miss when it comes to horror movies. If it’s a good movie, you probably already saw it when it was in theaters or when you rented it. And what you usually have left are movies you’d find at a garage sale for .25 a pop, if said garage sale was run by monsters who get off on inflicting bad B-movies unto unsuspecting viewers.
Given the sheer number of horrible titles on these streaming services, I get the feeling that they’re picked up in bulk rates.
But every now and then you catch a gem that you somehow missed. That’s the case with today’s movie, The Devil’s Candy, a well-produced lean, tight horror thriller with top notch acting and writing.
This IFC Films production is about a family moving into a haunted house out in the middle of Nowheresville, Texas. A house they got cheap because of a murder that took place (in the opening credits). But this isn’t your typical haunted house movie we’ve all seen a million times. And that’s thanks to both writer/director Sean Byrne, and the phenomenal cast.
In the opening scene you have a murder and that’s followed by a family driving in a car listening to metal music. Do NOT let the metal music fool you into thinking you’re in for some gore fest. It’s not a particularly bloody movie. Which makes the few acts of violence that do occur all the more startling, and gives some true weight to the threat to the Hellman family.
The family includes Jesse (played by Ethan Embry), Astrid (played by Shiri Appleby), and their teen daughter, Zooey (played by Kiara Glasco). Jesse stars as the father, struggling to make money with his painting as his wife says her job alone can’t pay the bills. After they move into the house, Jesse begins to hear voices and channeling something very dark in his paintings, especially with his second painting which shows children, including his daughter, in danger.
I know what you’re thinking: Dad hears voices, becomes possessed and kills his family. Seen it!
NO, THIS IS NOT THAT MOVIE
I won’t spoil too much of the story, but let’s just say that Pruitt Taylor Vince is absolutely chilling as Ray Smilie, the mentally unstable man that had once lived at the house. If you hadn’t seen him kill his mother in the opening scene, you might take pity on him. When he shows up on the doorstep of the Hellmans’ saying he wants to “return home,” you know things are NOT going to end well!
The Devil’s Candy is one of those movies that I’m guessing (based on the small number of locations and sets) didn’t have a big budget, but it LOOKS great! I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a movie snob. When a TV show or movie LOOKS too low budget, it affects my enjoyment of it (ESPECIALLY when the acting is equally low budget!) I like my stuff to look pretty! But at no time did I think, “Oh, here’s a low budget movie struggling to look decent.”
The sets, the special effects, the cinematography, were all top notch!
This movie just looks great! But even more important in a horror movie, the actors really nail it.
I hate when horror movies think they can get a pass by hiring crappy actors delivering cheesy lines. It’s what turns me off to nine out of ten horror movies I watch. A horror movie NEEDS good acting and dialogue to make you care about the characters, otherwise you’ve just got a forgettable movie.
The whole cast, from Ethan Embry’s haunted performance (where he looks like a Mad Jesus painting spooky things on a canvas in the dark), to Shiri Appleby’s concerned wife/mother, to Kiara Glasco’s performance as the teenage daughter who doesn’t fit in, to Pruitt Taylor Vince’s batshit crazy menace, EVERYBODY here delivers great performances! Even the brief appearance of Tony Amendola playing the art dealer, Leonard, was pitch perfect.
THE DEVIL’S CANDY DOES WHAT I FEEL ALL GOOD HORROR MUST DO, IT GETS YOU TO CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS EARLY ON
The set-up is simple, and quick. And I love that the family actually got along! How many movies and TV shows depict families that annoy the hell out of you with their moodiness and angst? You’re thinking, how the hell do these people even co-exist?! Don’t get me wrong, I like a complicated drama. But after a while, it’s refreshing to see a family that actually likes one other.
It’s also refreshing to see a movie where the teen isn’t a one-note pain in the ass.
You can tell that a lot of Hollywood writers either hate teenagers or they don’t know any from the way they write them. Or a third option, maybe they only know asshole teens. But The Devil’s Candy gets Zooey’s character perfectly using a few key moments between her and her father to show what she’s like.
There’s also some touching and humorous moments between each of the family members that makes them feel authentic. While there’s some family tension, it’s playing out in the background, as it often does in life, expressed in the little things be it the way two characters look at one another, the way they stand, or the things they don’t say.
And because you like this family, you care for them when bad shit starts to happen!
And, like one of my other favorite horror movies, The Descent, good character development (and acting) is what makes The Devil’s Candy work so well.
There were a couple of things I didn’t LOVE about the movie. One of them I can’t give away without spoiling the ending, and it’s not a deal breaker. The other minor quibble was that there was this B Story in the background with the art dealer that I thought might pay off down the road, but seemed abandoned. Perhaps a scene was left on the cutting room floor to make the movie’s lean running time? Or perhaps it was a red herring? That being said, I was kind of glad that The Devil’s Candy DIDN’T go the route I though they would with that storyline. It actually worked out in the movie’s favor by not overcomplicating things. These are but minor quibbles in an otherwise outstanding horror thriller that will NOT disappoint!
Borrowing a bit from game reviewer ACG on Youtube, I like to rate movies on a scale of WATCH ASAP!, WAIT FOR A RAINY DAY, or AVOID AT ALL COSTS, and The Devil’s Candy gets a…
Watch The Devil’s Candy on Netflix
Rent or buy it on Amazon Digital
or get the Blu Ray (releasing on Sept. 19, 2017)
Or rent or buy on iTunes
(Note: Streaming movies are subject to regional and timed availability. If the movie isn’t available at the above links in your region, just Google to find where you can buy/rent/or stream.)
HERE’S THE TRAILER FOR THE DEVIL’S CANDY
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Great review! Will have to check it out. Shared on FB.
I was an avid horror fan in my younger days, but the genre has changed over the last few decades. I still enjoy psychological horror that’s character driven, but not the blood-and-guts stuff that seems to dominate horror these days. Your review gives me hope that there are still films that will hold my interest long enough to care about the characters. I was especially intrigued to see that one of my favorite character actors, Pruitt Taylor Vince, plays the villain. Thanks for the heads up, and I’ll let you know what I thought of the film.