Satan has a long history with both the horror genre of cinema and the metal genre of music. Much like the heavy metal horror films of the 1980s, Sean Byrne’s sophomore directorial effort, The Devil’s Candy, deals with the Dark Lord’s connection to thrashy music — but there’s quite a twist here.
Instead of the film focusing on a fame-obsessed musician selling his soul to the devil in order to achieve greatness, it’s actually a movie about a family’s love for one another. Byrne’s take on Satanic music ends up feeling more in the vein of Poltergeist than, say, Trick or Treat, which really elevates the film to a much higher level because the stakes are higher and the characters are far more relatable. Not everybody would sell their soul to become a successful musician, but almost everyone would go to great lengths to protect their family from eternal damnation.
Featuring an old school haunted house story setup, The Devil’s Candy finds the Hellman family knowingly moving into a home where the previous residents mysteriously died. Despite some financial struggles, Jesse (Ethan Embry), Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) have a strong familial bond that is put to the test when Jesse begins to have strange blackouts that result in him painting macabre imagery without any recollection. But when a mysterious man (Pruitt Taylor Vince) shows up at the house with a guitar, things get even more complicated for the family.
Fast-paced and extremely lean, The Devil’s Candy speeds by extremely quickly, to the point where it really feels like it ends too soon. It’s so fun and the Hellmans are so likable that you want the story to keep going. Embry and Appleby share an incredible onscreen chemistry as a believable pair of opposites who still manage to feel completely authentic in their relationship. Without a doubt, the biggest show-stealer of the film is young Kiara Glasco who provides a superb performance as one of the more resilient teenage girls in recent cinema.
Together, all three actors feel like an actual family. Embry feels like Glasco’s father. Glasco feels like Appleby’s daughter. Appleby feels like Embry’s wife. And as a result of this, their protectiveness over each other is all the more honest, and when shit really hits the fan around the midway point of the film, the stakes are very real.
The genuine, down-to-earth nature of the performances works brilliantly with the subtle nature of the film’s supernatural elements, which Byrne never allows to really go over the top. When a demonic entity summoning unsuspecting humans to paint upsetting murals and play an electric guitar as loudly as possible feels totally within the realm of possibility, you know there’s some quality filmmaking taking place and that is precisely what goes down in The Devil’s Candy.
The Devil’s Candy arrives in select theaters and on VOD through IFC Midnight on March 17th.