Normally, I am not one to sit and watch movies from the horror genre with big expectations. It is not that I think all the genre is horribly written or executed it is just in the current day the originality seems to be missing from that genre. Today was a shocking surprise when I watched the Sean Byrne film The Devil’s Candy made in 2015 but released in 2017 starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. The movie takes place in present day in a Midwest no-name town and centers around the Hellman family; Jesse, Astrid, and Zoe.
The movie begins with a man in his room who seems to hear what sounds like a demonic voice directing him to do something. To drown out the voice, the man plugs in his electric guitar and starts to play it as loud as possible. The noise seems to stir someone else in the house to storm into his room and start to berate him. This character appears to be the grown man’s mother as she threatens to tell his father that the man needs to be sent back to the hospital. The man angry at this follows her to the top of the stairs where he pushes her down the flight, killing her. On the wall that runs with the staircase, a cross falls but is left hanging in an upside-down position.
We are then introduced to Jesse Hellman, the patriarch of the family. Jesse painting in his studio for a commission from the local bank. While painting, Jesse listens to heavy metal rock which also seems to not only surround the soundtrack of the movie but becomes a character all on its own. Jesse’s daughter Zoe walks into her dad’s studio to let him know that it is time to leave for an appointment. Zoe is clearly her father’s child with streaked purple hair and metal band t-shirt and converse shoes. After a few exchanges, Jesse’s wife Astrid comes in a little annoyed that Jesse hasn’t taken a shower and that they are going to be late for their appointment. Astrid herself seems to fit in with the family theme, while dressed very nicely, she hides her blue-streaked hair in a ponytail. On the way to the appointment, Jesse has heavy metal blasting in the car while exchanging looks and smiles with his daughter in the backseat and mom is smiling in the front seat as they drive. This part of the movie really sets the tone of the family dynamic. Most horror movies where there is a mom, dad and child you get the dad who works too much, the mom who takes care of the household in a robotic movement sort of way and you have a child who is depressed and withdrawn from the family that doesn’t understand them. In this movie, having the family vibe set to be outside of the normal nuclear family that we typically see was something I was happy to see the dynamic to be set more to a modern day tone that more families are able to relate to.
We learn that the Hellman family was meeting a realtor at a farm for sale. We see the family go through the normal motions of looking at a home to buy that, of course, is much better than the current rental that they live in. While in the back of the property the realtor shows them a large empty shop that Jesse right away knows he could use as a studio. It is during this part of the property tour that the realtor lets them know about two deaths recently in the home. The realtor really sugarcoats the actual deaths by just saying that an old woman fell down the stairs and her husband could not live without her so, we are left believing that he committed suicide in the home. Later that night, Jesse and Astrid sit on their back porch together sharing a joint, Jesse is seemingly trying to convince Astrid that they made an excellent choice to buy the home while not only the story of the deaths in the home creeps her out a bit but normal everyday things such as her getting to work, their daughter changing schools and Jesse having to be a sell out every now and again to make the bills could be a mistake. Jesse assures her, that everything will be fine, and their daughter is strong and can handle any change.
Once they move into the home and get their house all set, Jesse takes Zoe to school while Astrid heads out to work and Jesse is left home alone to work in his studio. As soon as he returns from taking Zoe to school is when the battle between Jesse’s sanity and possibly the lives of those around him begin as he hears the demonic voice start speaking to him just as it did to the previous tenant. From here we follow Jesse on many nights of blackouts and disturbing paintings that he produces which later tie into the nightmare that is to fall upon his family. Can Jesse save himself from spiraling in order to save his family? Will Jesse be consumed with personal want over what he knows in his heart to be right?
There are two parts to this movie that symbolize the type of inner struggles that Jesse faces. When he starts to produce more disturbing pieces of art, he returns to a gallery that previously rejected the art portfolio he presented. The assistant to the owner of the gallery is a beautiful woman who speaks in a monotone yet haunting voice trying to let Jesse know that Leonard, the owner of the gallery never looks twice at an artist. The lighting of the gallery gives almost a false lit aisle toward this woman’s desk who is dressed in a red dress. For me this symbolized that even though Jesse knew what he produced was disturbing he still wanted to go to that other side of himself and see if he could produce interest in his art with the receptionist wearing the red dress, it is almost as if Jesse is asking to see the other side of evil for the sake of making a name for himself. Later in the film, Jesse meets Leonard the owner of the gallery who arrives wearing a black suit with a crimson trim that pretty much dangles everything Jesse would want as an artist in front of him but, at the sacrifice of something dearer in his life and Jesse must make a choice. Again, almost like making a deal with the devil, to paraphrase Al Pacino in The Devils Advocate, vanity is a favorite sin of the devil.
All in all, I loved the movie. Ethan Embry gives a knockout performance that hits you right in the heart and stirs up honest concern for the character Jesse and for his family. The only issue I would have with it is the last 3 or so minutes of the film where I was left with a few questions, I think that there could have been a tad more resolution but, I did understand it and get it. I view this movie as more of a psychological thriller rather than a horror film. My favorite thing about this movie is how formed the characters become and how identifiable they are. The entire cast deserves applause for their performance mainly Ethan Embry and Pruitt Taylor Vince who give phenomenal performances. The Devil’s Candy is now streaming on Netflix and I highly recommend it to be added to your playlist.
Be sure to also catch Ethan Embry in First Man in theaters on October 11th
Covering superheroes, anything dark, horror, and more! Lead writer for Fan Fest