2 out of 5
Directed by: Sean Byrne
My opinions must be broken. Sometimes, going into something, I can tell when my opinion might be contrary. I’ll likely have looked into the general consensus, and if nothing stands out as particularly offensive to my tastes, I’ll have a heads up that I might be defending something. This isn’t so illogical: this is similar to assessing any opinion to see if it affects your own; the only difference in this case is that yours is certainly the minority opinion, and maybe that can be harder to assert.
The same holds true going the other way: The Mass says yea, their reasoning doth not hold me in sway, and so my reception is to shrug and use olde English.
When my pre-judgments are wrong, it’s of course pleasant to be shown a good movie when you’re expecting bad. But I think it’s especially disappointing when you’re expecting a positive and it dawns on you that… that’s not what you’re seeing. I realize that, to a certain extent, this is defining heightened expectations, but this effect is more subtle than that: enter The Devil’s Candy, the 2015-released-2017 Loved Ones followup from director/writer Sean Byrne. I didn’t love The Loved Ones, but it was solid, and had a vision. Enough so that I was looking forward to what the director would do next. And almost as though the metal rocker teen of Loved had evolved into the metal rocker dad, played by Ethan Embry, of Devil’s Candy – Byrne’s focus seemed to similarly progress from teen affection to paternal worry. I suppose my expectation, based on the type of reviews I was reading, were that the whole movie would be like a step forward in skillset.
But like Loved Ones, not much story actually happens in DC. A family moves into a house with a haunting back story, and Embry is emotionally harassed (or ‘inspired’, since he’s an artist) while physical threats loom over his wife (Shiri Appleby) and daughter (Kiara Glasco). And… that’s it. Follow the thread to the end. One could praise the simplicity, but Devil’s Candy stacks up a lot of doom and gloom via some constant Satanic chanting and a Sunn O))) soundtrack for ridiculously little payoff of tossed off explanations and quick cut dreams. I suppose, in pursuance of filmic maturity, this is the ‘subdued’ horror followup to Loved Ones gore, but even as a mood piece (a la recent efforts like The Witch or It Follows) I just wasn’t feeling it, for two unfortunately primary reasons:
Firstly, I like Ethan Embry, but he seemed woefully miscast to me, here. The building sense of horror I think was being attempted – as Embry’s life is overtaken by the powers of this house – were never felt from Embry’s presence, which is too doe-eyed to communicate the emotion, no matter how much ratty hair and paint you put him under. The protagonist always felt way too innocent to me, but in a harmless way as opposed to one ripe for Satany manipulations. The flipside of this is casting Pruitt Taylor Vince as yer film’s crazy, because he’s so typecast in the role there’s simply no mystery to where things are going once he appears. Which wouldn’t be a problem of the film didn’t seem to want to hang on a sense of mystery.
Secondly, I am completely baffled by the editing choices in the film. The way actions and responses are stitched together is very stilted, cutting before we’re settled in a scene or juxtaposing angles to ruin any sense of real space. Scenes would have the right music and lighting, but I would then feel completely yanked out by a cut. This is persistent through the whole film, despite the tone of the scene.
The music is good. The lighting is good. I wish the movie were a bit more ‘metal’ (especially given the whole heavy metal styled poster for the film), but Byrne sort of normalized heshers in Loved Ones, so I guess we’ll allow him to do the same here. …And the general concept, though basic, is good, with some really effective production touches – like the paintings – that are suggestive of a polish that just didn’t extend to the rest of the movie.
So… I dunno. Maybe next time, Byrne, when you complete your heavy metal trilogy with a retirement home rocker or something.